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September 7, 2011

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Union rejects HSE’s cost-cutting manufacturing strategy

Unite has withheld its support for the HSE’s draft manufacturing strategy, as it believes it will result in a decline in health and safety standards.

The strategy for the manufacturing sector has been designed to provide direction for both industry and the regulator in their efforts to improve health and safety performance in Great Britain, and is closely aligned with the HSE’s overall strategy, ‘Be part of the Solution’, which was launched in June 2009. According to the union, however, if implemented as drafted, the manufacturing strategy will lead to weaker enforcement and, consequently, more workplace deaths, injuries and cases of ill health.

The strategy is also heavily influenced by more recent events, notably the findings of the Lord Young review, ‘Common sense – common safety’, the Department for Work and Pensions’ framework, ‘Good health and safety, good for everyone’, as well as the Government’s drive to reduce costs and encourage growth.

Announced in March, the DWP health and safety framework committed the HSE to reduce inspections by a third, as well as outlining, in broad terms, the industries that would still be subject to proactive intervention by the regulator, and those that would largely be excluded. It categorised high-risk manufacturing as an area where inspections would be retained but proposed that “lower-risk” manufacturing sectors – such as textiles, clothing, footwear, light engineering and electrical engineering – would be exempt.

Building on the framework, the HSE has now issued an external consultation draft strategy for the manufacturing sector, which defines, in more detail, the enforcement approach that the Executive will adopt for the various industries and sub-industries within manufacturing.

In keeping with the overarching strategy, ‘Be part of the solution’, the manufacturing strategy sets out an enhanced role for industry bodies and intermediaries – such as trade associations, unions and sector skills councils – to exert their own influence on improving health and safety within their fields.

While the HSE promises to retain proactive inspections for industries it classifies as high-hazard, and where the control of risks is unsatisfactory – i.e. basic and molten metals; shipbuilding and ship repair; and food – it also states: “The scale of many of the organisations concerned, together with the presence of engaged influential trade associations and, in some cases, union membership, provides the basis for improvement and sharing of lessons learned.”

It adds: “Where appropriate, the role of intermediary bodies could be extended in future (drawing on the input from the significant organisations) to take an increasing lead as control of the major risks improves.”

Another group – including plastics; rubber; mineral industries; and paper – is categorised as high, or medium-risk, but the HSE suggests it will intervene with duty-holders in these industries on a reactive basis, and will rely largely on intermediaries addressing health and safety priorities to bring about an improvement in standards. The strategy adds that where trade associations are weaker, “the coherent structures and scale of operations make it feasible that improved standards could be achieved through the supply chain”.

Where the HSE admits that proactive intervention will be key, and targeted, is for a group of industries it defines as high, or medium-risk, characterised by dispersed small businesses, where effective trade associations are lacking. This group includes motor vehicle repair; stone working; woodworking; and some fabricated metal products. While the HSE’s work in these areas will focus on customised approaches to influence SMEs, the regulator has also vowed to put in place “effective mechanisms for bringing enforcement action and lessons learned to the attention of SMEs”.

A final group – comprising leather; laundries; computer products; printing; and textiles – are deemed to be lower-risk, or declining industries with relatively few individuals at risk. The HSE’s approach to this group will be largely reactive.

Commenting on the draft strategy, Unite’s assistant general secretary and head of manufacturing, Tony Burke, said: “Unite cannot support a strategy that oversees a reduction in health and safety standards and which, we believe, puts manufacturing workers, many of them Unite members, at greater risk. This strategy is built on the back of cuts to the HSE and will lead to fewer inspections, less enforcement, and more deaths, injuries and ill health at work.”

He added: “This is just another example of government cuts affecting working people – in this case their health and safety. Unite will fight these cuts and will continue to defend the health and safety of people at work.” 

SHP asked EEF – the manufacturers’ organisation for its views on the draft strategy but it said it was unable to comment at this time.

A programme entitled ‘Reviving UK Manufacturing’ will be shown on the Business Channel tomorrow (Thursday, 8 September) at 8.30pm (Sky channel 166 or Freesat channel 402). The programme covers the challenges and opportunities faced by manufacturing companies in the UK and features an interview with the chief executive of Oxfordshire-based health and safety products manufacturer JSP Ltd, Mark Johnstone.

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12 years ago

If we continue practising ostrich theory, we will end up like Greece. Cuts have to be made, and union dinosaurs should support the HSE in the way they perceive as effective (and they are the experts)rather than resisting cuts.

12 years ago

Enforcement has been on the decline for ten years or more, this latest cost cutting initiative of the HSE will do nothing more than erode workplace health, safety and welfare standards even further. The union is right to raise its concern which is also held by others inside the industry.

12 years ago

As a retired H&S Consultant of over 20 yrs, I agree with the Union.
It would seem that government has influenced what is meant to be an independent body, the HSE.
This “review” has only one aim! To cut costs.
Reducing HSE inspections as an option?
The role of the HSE is to Police companies to ensure the safety of employees.
This proposal does the opposite!