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Delegates at the TUC Congress have unanimously supported a motion condemning the cuts to the HSE’s budget and warning to fight any “watering-down of health and safety” imposed through the Government’s reform agenda.
The motion, which was moved yesterday (14 September) by construction union UCATT, highlighted the Government’s plans to cut 35 per cent of the HSE’s budget by 2015, and the potential impact that this reduction will have on the Executive’s capability to regulate worker safety.
Unions point out that the cuts to the HSE’s budget come at a time when long-standing financial pressures have already impacted heavily on the organisation’s enforcement activities.
According to Paula Brown, vice-president of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), who spoke at the Congress, HSE inspections have plummeted in the last decade – from 75,272 inspections in 1999/2000 to just over 23,000 in 2008/09. With the Executive committed to reducing unannounced inspections by a third – and no such inspections of this nature planned for many sectors, including agriculture and quarrying – Brown estimates that the cuts will mean that inspectors will conduct around 15,000 proactive inspections a year – a far cry from the levels achieved at the turn of the century.
Highlighting a concurrent thread in falling HSE staffing numbers, she explained that the regulator held 4282 full-time equivalent (FTE) posts in 2004, but that total has now dropped to 2995, as of July this year.
She went on to explain how this fits in with the HSE’s plans to recover the costs of its intervention work through duty-holders found to be non-complying with health and safety rules. “The HSE doesn’t yet know if it can keep the money it obtains from cost-recovery,” said Brown. “If it is allowed to keep it, what is it going to do with it? We are told it cannot spend it on more front-line inspectors, or campaigning activity, so what is it going to spend it on?”
As well as the cuts, the motion focused on the closure of the Infoline service, which means that, from this week, work-related incidents can no longer be reported to the HSE by phone – unless they involve a fatality, or major injury.
It also raised fears that the Löfstedt Review will result in safety laws being scrapped “in the name of cutting red tape”.
In moving the motion, Dennis Doody, a member of UCATT’s executive council, said: “It is a fundamental right to be safe at work; this Government is destroying that right. The vast majority of workplace accidents are easily preventable. Government policies will increase accidents.”