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Health and Safety Inspections

Volume 456: debated on Thursday 1 February 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what meetings he has had with Commissioners of the Health and Safety Commission to discuss the frequency of inspections of places of higher education in each of the last five years. (115493)

No DWP Ministers have had meetings with members of the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) to discuss these matters during the last five years. Ministers do however meet regularly with the Chair of HSC to discuss workplace health and safety issues.

Background

1. In marshalling HSE’s inspection resource, HSE seeks to target poor performers. The key criteria in establishing the frequency of inspections are the risks presented by particular duty holders, premises or industries and the ability and willingness of duty holders to manage those risks. Where the risk is low and duty holders’ ability high, visits are less frequent than where the risk is high and duty holders are failing to manage those risks. In targeting the inspection resource in this way, HSE believes it has the greatest impact on reducing work-related deaths, injuries and ill health.

2. In 2003, HSE ceased to set targets for the number of inspection contacts. Such targets encouraged short visits to low risk places, whereas the Health and Safety Commission’s strategy for workplace health and safety 2010 sought a sharper focus on injury and ill health priorities, and more substantial contacts with a carefully selected range of duty holders. Over the last five years or so, the actual time HSE inspectors have spent interacting with and encouraging duty holders has increased by 23 per cent.

3. Important as inspection is, the frequency of inspections is not a particularly useful metric. The Health and Safety Commission’s strategy fully recognises the importance of inspection, and the threat of enforcement, as a powerful motivator for improved standards. But to be most effective, they need to sit alongside other interventions, such as encouraging partnership working, communications, and so on.

Inspection in Higher Education

1. HSE sees higher education as a mature sector. The risks are for the most part well known (including those associated with laboratory work with hazardous chemicals), well understood, well managed and there are well-established networks and institutions for their management. In line with the approach set out in the aforementioned paragraphs 1-3, HSE has therefore no general proactive inspection programme.

4. However, this year, some proactive inspection will take place examining higher education institution’s management of work-related stress—HSE inspectors will visit about 120 universities. Work-related stress is one of the priority topics identified in the Commissions strategy for workplace health and safety 2010.

5. This inspection activity follows a series of seminars in the autumn of 2006, to which all higher education institutions were invited—and which nearly 50 per cent. of all institutions attended—designed to equip institutions with knowledge and skills to tackle work-related stress through the use of HSE’s Stress Management Standards. This programme of inspection will look at whether the Management Standards (or any equivalent approach) is being used, or if it is, assist in ensuring action is maintained.

6. A second programme of inspection activity will look at the management of slipping and tripping hazards—a hazard the sector recognises as a particular issue—another of the Commission’s priority topics. These inspections will follow a series of nationwide seminars run by HSE, in partnership with the sector, which will equip attendees with the knowledge and skills to manage slips and trips.