Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to have at least a short debate on issues of health and safety. It gives us the opportunity to take stock in light of recent developments, including implementation of the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham; the impact of the spending review and the 35 per cent reduction in funding for the HSE; and the recent pronouncements of 21 March by the Minister for Employment.
It was not my intent today to cover issues around the HSE’s role in nuclear inspection, but I hope that the report under way by the UK’s chief nuclear inspector will provide this opportunity in due course. Nor do I intend to dwell on major hazard industries, not because they are not extremely important but because the coalition Government have seemingly, and sensibly, determined that regulation of these industries is soundly based and in accordance with best international practice.
Our concern around recent developments is the central message being promulgated, which is that much action on health and safety is burdensome to business and unnecessary. The focus is on what RoSPA refers to as “over-hitting” on health and safety, rather than on underperformance. There is also very little focus on occupational health.
So it is worth reminding ourselves why health and safety is so important. The prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities is not only a legal imperative and a moral one; it is good business. The costs to business of health and safety failures are potentially wide ranging: direct costs of sick pay, compensation, fines; loss on a temporary or long-term basis of employee skills; costs of temporary cover, reputational damage and possible exclusions from procurement opportunities. For individuals and their families the consequences can be devastating—the loss of a loved one, aspirations blighted, family finances wrecked.
We know that good health and safety is linked to leadership of an organisation and that organisations which have good health and safety systems tend to have good management systems, and better economic performance. We also know that the benefits of worker engagement can improve health and safety outcomes but that hardly gets a mention these days—certainly not trade unions and the significant contribution that they have made to the training of safety reps, which is just one example. For government the gains should be obvious; stopping people falling out of work avoids the cost of benefits, retains tax revenues and obviates recourse to expensive back-to-work programmes.
So, given all of this, it is surprising that little effort on the part of the Government is being directed at improving our performance as a country and promoting the strong benefits of the system that we have; rather, there is the focus on health and safety being a burden on business. I will not repeat all the figures, but last year 28.5 million days were lost to workplace ill health and injury. Over 500,000 workers suffered from MSDs, and nearly as many from stress, depression or anxiety. Some 152 people were killed at work, and 740 in work-related road accidents. The cost to the UK economy is many billions of pounds each year. Despite the fact that we have a very strong record in comparison to other countries, there is still much to do.
So how are these recent developments helping? The report of the noble Lord, Lord Young, focused little on occupational health and what might improve our health and safety performance but had wider significance around personal injury claims, food hygiene rating schemes and so on. Nevertheless, positive developments have flowed from the report, perhaps the most important being the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register. This was formally opened for business by the 21 March announcement but had been in gestation for some time. The health and safety professional bodies which have co-operated with the HSE in bringing it to fruition are to be congratulated, especially IOSH, which has long campaigned for an accreditation scheme. It will provide better reassurance for purchasers of services, helping to tackle the problem of unqualified or unscrupulous consultants who overcharge and overprescribe, adding costs for business and adding to a culture of unnecessary risk aversion.
One of the enduring strengths of our health and safety legislation and the management regulations is that they are non-prescriptive. They set out what must be achieved, not how something should be done. However, this creates a need for more help for some businesses, especially SMEs and micro-businesses. This theme was picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Young, who proposed simplified risk assessments for what he described as low-hazard workplaces. The HSE has responded to this, although it does not appear to be developing the proposed periodic checklist, nor, thankfully, to be exempting employers of home workers or the self-employed from risk assessment. The launch of the website Health and Safety Made Simple with the March statement is to be welcomed.
I turn to what is described as the new health and safety framework. A central proposition of this is to reduce inspections for non-major-hazard industries. In particular, it proposes that there will no longer be proactive inspections for what are described as lower-risk areas, which include light engineering, electrical engineering, the transport sector—air, road haulage and docks—education, and electricity generation, nor for areas of concern such as agriculture, quarries, and health and social care, where such inspections are deemed unlikely to be effective.
Perhaps, in passing, I may comment further that the HSE’s website for January records that one of the successful prosecutions was of a high-voltage electrical engineering company where someone was prosecuted after an employee suffered serious burns from equipment carrying 11,000 volts. On the new basis, it would seemingly be a lower-risk area and not subject to proactive inspections, if I understand the intent. Perhaps the Minister can expand on the evidence base that was used to arrive at this determination. Has the analysis taken account of health issues, as well as the records of deaths and accidents? Do the Government reject the evidence that the prospect of inspections is an incentive for employers to improve?
We have considerable concerns over this blanket approach to designating great swathes of business as low hazard—effectively no-go areas until something goes wrong. As RoSPA suggests, should we not be focused on the risk profile of people’s jobs and not the hazard history of the sector in which they operate? How do the Government intend to monitor and report on this new approach?
Of course, proactive inspection is only one component of the HSE’s and LA’s preventive agenda. Joint working with industry is carried out at the moment and can be developed. The provision of advice and awareness-raising through, for example, safety and health awareness days, and press campaigns such as the Shattered Lives campaign concerning asbestos, have recently been cut back. Given that proactive inspections are to be curtailed, can the Minister say what the future is for these approaches? Is it right that there is still a moratorium on TB advertising, which has been in place since the purdah in the run-up to the general election? IOSH points out that the HSE Infoline is to be terminated later this year, which has provided a valuable source of information as well as a translation service. This has been particularly valuable to SMEs. What is to replace it?
The 21 March document makes it clear that HSE will continue to undertake inspections for enforcement purposes and to follow up on complaints, but seemingly only for those areas of high risk or those of concern. This suggests—perhaps the Minister will confirm it—that there will be no such inspections for those lower-risk areas. Is this right? Is there to be any change to the HSE’s enforcement policy? We obviously await the outcome of the consultation on RIDDOR concerning the manner of reporting, but, in this context, the demise of the Incident Contact Centre, which simplified the process of reporting and reduced admin burdens on business, would seem at least premature.
All this must be seen in the context of the CSR and the requirement for the HSE to achieve savings of 35 per cent over the period—about £80 million a year by 2014-15. Proposals for cost recovery associated with breaches of health and safety law will ameliorate the position to an extent, but it is clearly not possible for the HSE to maintain its current level of operations.
The Government have indicated that cuts can be achieved by administrative savings, but considerable savings have already been made, not least in accommodation costs with the consolidation of the head office in Bootle. What is the number of front-line inspectors projected to be over the CSR period and the capacity of the organisation to carry out even the projected new number of inspections? What are the plans for the construction sector in particular, and is it right that the 20 inspectors on fixed contracts are not to be replaced? The construction sector has come a long way but, as we know, is still high-risk. If not through proactive inspection, how are issues in agriculture, another dangerous industry, to be addressed?
Finally, we have the review of health and safety regulation to be led by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt. We could not object to this, albeit that the starting premise carries the implication of gold-plating despite evidence to the contrary. One hopes that the review will put that myth to bed once and for all, but it would be helpful if the Minister could say when final terms of reference will be available.
Our country has been well served by our health and safety system, by our national and local authority regulators and by that committed and knowledgeable range of stakeholders who are key to past success and future progress. There are those who will continue to misrepresent or misuse the system, sometimes deliberately, sometimes through ignorance. We all have to make the case for H&S, the Government above all.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for this debate today, because it gives us an excellent opportunity to pick up on some of the issues which were extensively debated on 25 November last year, when we discussed the report of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham. Since the Government said that they were going to implement the report’s recommendations, the debate gives us the opportunity also to test how far they have gone. I am pleased to see that there has been considerable progress. In particular, the framework document before us, Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone, lays down a shape for health and safety for the future. However, like all frameworks, it is has skeletal aspects, which give us plenty of opportunity to probe the Minister for some of the detailed answers that we require.
I welcome the appointment of Professor Löfstedt to conduct the review of legislation in this area. He is eminently qualified and it is a welcome step. However, I am somewhat mystified to read that his terms of reference are to be determined by the professor himself. Some of us may think that if you hand someone a blank piece of paper they will write down what their predispositions are, whereas clearly it is the Government’s predispositions which are important. It is not clear from the document but I suspect that the Government have laid out a framework in which these terms of reference are to be placed. As a starting point, will the Minister provide Members of the Committee with a copy of the fully worked-up and detailed terms of reference as soon as possible, together with a timetable for his work, so that we can have an opportunity to look at those matters further?
An overarching principle is that health and safety is not only for companies, workers and the health and safety representative but for everyone. It is for all of us in a working environment and it is not to be seen only as the province of one responsible person. We have gained a great deal in this country from the work that has been done so far, but there is still more to be done. Certainly a great deal of streamlining is necessary, and some of the corners in the system which have been difficult for companies to turn can be made smooth and straightened out.
I suspect that this is about trying to draw the appropriate balance between not having too rigorous a regulatory regime with too great a burden on employers and making sure that we protect individuals at work. This could be seen as a continuum between the risk averse at one end and the risk takers at the other. I prefer to see this as a new way of looking at the “risk intelligent” approach, in which everyone in the workforce—the employers and the employees—need to be intelligent about risk. Intelligence, of course, is a key word for more knowledge, more skill and more training. A better understanding is at the root of this.
At the heart of this new framework, on pages 8 and 9, are the main changes that are to be made. There are two clear focuses: first, on those who flout the rules; and, secondly, on high-risk locations. I shall take them separately. On the first point, it is difficult to know who flouts the rules without inspections; then you can know who is not following the rules. Can the Minister tell the Committee how you know who is flouting the rules? If it is to be through an enhanced whistleblower approach, that is fine by me. However, it needs to be spelled out more clearly because there are difficulties in whistleblowing alone, as people will not want to upset their employer, particularly in a small company where they are fearful for their jobs. We need to be careful and define more clearly how we outline the companies who flout the rules. It is easy, of course, if they have done it once and you know who they are, to come back upon people and to redouble your efforts. Under the terminology in the DWP press release, once these “rogue” companies are discovered and investigated, they will have to pay for being helped to put things right—which is perfectly appropriate—but how do we find the “rogues”?
On the second issue, regarding high-risk locations, I was tempted, and I set my mind to trying, to find a route through to something that is to be described as non-high risk. I came up with an opencast facility in Merthyr Tydfil, where they are moving six mountains; they are digging a hole, taking out the old slag, washing it, putting back the unused minerals and taking the material away for use in coal-fired power stations. The difficulty there is that transport has also been excluded. I happen to have been on that site, where use is made of possibly some of the largest vehicles I have ever seen. If I stood next to the wheel, it would probably have been twice my height—never mind the size of the overall operation. Yet quarrying—which is essentially what that opencast facility is—and transport are excluded. I wonder when and where we will get more definition of how these categories are to be arrived at and what criteria lie behind their choice. It is perfectly acceptable to see them as they are in the framework, but the framework is skeletal and perhaps need to be sketched out somewhat more clearly.
As the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has already referred to, in health and safety we concentrate very much upon safety and do not always look at health. I wonder whether that is because words such as stress and mental health are difficult to make tangible in order to understand their impact. For example, could we look at some hazards each year to try to anticipate the sort of changes that one might put within the workplace for those intangible health elements? Of course, there are far more tangible health elements which we now know about but which an employer would not have known about. The example there is asbestos. No one knew about its impact. We had a debate in this Room about mesothelioma, discussing its impact and the swift killer that it becomes based upon asbestos in the workplace. We know of that but there may be other silent killers which we know little about. How is that work to continue and who is going to do it?
Perhaps I might pick up on one particular interest: the loss of the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority, which is being replaced by a code of practice. I well remember why that body was put in place. Noble Lords may remember that it was when there was a series of accidents with children canoeing in a bay in Dorset. A lot of children were drowned when those canoes capsized. It is important that we are absolutely certain that the code of practice will not only be simple guidance but have the enforceability of law behind it, and that there is some form of checking to make sure that the code is put in place because the safety of young people is crucial.
I would like to touch as well upon the accreditation of advisers and consultants, which is very welcome. I went looking to see which of the advisers and consultants who are now on the register live near me. I understand that if you pay the money, you get on the register and there will eventually be an accreditation body to take on that responsibility. However, I would like reassurance that that accreditation body will also be sufficiently independent to examine appropriately whether somebody is doing their job well and to ensure that people are taken off the register if they are not. After all, one element that we talked about in the previous debate was of having people who had lacked the skills and qualifications in that crucial area. We need to ensure the highest possible standards, which it seems to me can be achieved without a great deal of money having to go behind them. However, that will require independence of action by a professional body.
In conclusion, there are still many questions to be asked and actions to be developed. The Government’s current progress is on track and I hope that they will achieve that balance which I spoke of earlier. That will lead to a risk-intelligent society at work in the future.
My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend has introduced a debate on this subject and I thank him for doing so. Some time ago, we had a debate on a report undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Young. He is of course no longer the PM’s chief adviser but the Government are apparently still committed to introducing legislation arising from that report. Presumably, this paper from the DWP is part of that policy. I recall saying at the time that if legislation emerged designed to make it more difficult for employees to make claims because of illness or injuries at work, I would do everything I could to oppose it, and that is still my position.
There is apparently a notion that health and safety provision in the UK is the best in the world and that very few people are hurt at work. Unfortunately, that is not true. There are many hazardous occupations, some of which have been referred to by my noble friend Lord McKenzie in his introduction today. Up to 1,500 people are killed every year in work-related accidents and millions are made ill by work-related illnesses. Furthermore, arising from the report of the noble Lord, Lord Young—although this was not maintained in the report itself—the Government, including the Prime Minister, claim that in this country we are suffering from a compensation culture. They say that health and safety costs too much and that there is too much regulation which prevents a growth in jobs, particularly in the private sector. Much of that is not accurate. Less than 10 per cent of workers made ill or injured at work get any sort of compensation at all.
There is actually less regulation now than there was 40 years ago. There are also fewer spot inspections of workplaces, fewer prosecutions and in 98 per cent of major injuries there is no enforcement action taken later by the employers concerned. The Health and Safety Executive has done a very good job over the years on improving health and safety at work, but that is all changing as a result of government cuts. There is a 35 per cent cut in government funds to the HSE which is to take full effect by 2015. As a result, the HSE is now finalising plans to turn into a slim-line, pay-as-you-go enforcement agency that charges for everything, from enforcement notices to routine advice and accident investigations. There is now a voluntary exit scheme which has apparently been oversubscribed, with 250 applicants for redundancy among HSE staff. Enforcement is already in crisis. The number of inspections is to fall and proactive inspections may be abandoned altogether.
In the mean time, the Government are also planning to change the way in which European directives on health and safety eventually become part of UK law. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, who chairs the Cabinet's Reducing Regulation Committee made it clear that the Government intend to end much regulation so that British business is not put at a disadvantage. It is clear that the Government intend to move to weaker laws and, of course, less protection for British workers. That is dangerous and quite unwarranted. If the Prime Minister is genuinely concerned about the big society and encouraging voluntary organisations, he should be aware that the families of workers who have been killed and injured in work-related incidents have formed themselves into an organisation called Families Against Corporate Killers and are campaigning for tougher laws against what they believe to be preventable illnesses and deaths and for the HSE to have more powers rather than fewer.
The TUC also supports the campaign for improved enforcement. In confidential interviews, many managers and staff have said that they fear reprisals if they raise safety concerns at work, despite the fact that the Labour Government introduced legislation designed to protect whistleblowers. Unions have exposed the scandal of the under-reporting of safety concerns. From the information provided to me, it seems that far from having a compensation culture, there is actually too little reporting of hazards in employment. The TUC is taking that very seriously. There is no doubt that workplaces are safer where unions are recognised and safety representatives are able to do their work. Moreover, union members are more likely to get help if they need to take a case to court because the unions will support cases in order to assist their members.
There is a Workers' Memorial Day, with a rally in Manchester, on 28 April, in memory of those who have died from work-related accidents and to press for a strengthening of enforcement and opposition to the Government’s cuts drive, which will put more employees at risk, and which will involve the NHS and taxpayers in the expense of dealing with the problems that workers encounter because they need attention, benefits and assistance from the NHS. Sometimes employers manage to escape altogether because they do not always carry insurance. I remember that this was another issue that we raised some time ago; the previous Government had undertaken to deal with it, but it does not seem to bother the existing Government very much.
In a number of ways, the Government seem intent on changing the balance between employers and employees to the disadvantage of employees. The Government may very well live to regret that. I have recently had some correspondence from a lady who is very active in the voluntary organisation to which I referred. She is the mother of a son who died in a rather appalling accident at work. She has drawn my attention to the fact that the Prime Minister said, prior to the election:
“So let me make it clear: yes, the Conservatives will reduce the burden and impact of health and safety legislation in our country”,
to which she responds:
“David Cameron’s government intends removing the ‘burden’ on employers of safeguarding their employees, but the real emotional and financial burden is borne by the families of up to 1,500 killed every year by preventable accidents at work”.
That is a very important statement from somebody who has really suffered as a result of inadequate protection in the past. We certainly do not want to make it any worse than it is at present.
If I may contribute briefly before the Minister sums up, I would just like to make two points. I have been on a sort of inspection trip of the railways this morning with Theresa Villiers, the Minister for Transport, looking at some work that Network Rail has been doing. There were a lot of signallers around on the tracks—something had gone wrong—and it made me wonder yet again, if transport as an industry is going to be downgraded in risk, where the railways come in this. Railways are transport and so is road. The difference in the risk to a worker beside a track on the railways is not much different to the risks and exposure of people working on motorways, where the traffic is going extremely fast—probably at much the same speed—and with even less protection. The great thing about trains is that they tend to stay on tracks, whereas cars occasionally wander off the road. So it would be very interesting to hear what views the Minister has on that particular element of transport, because railways are transport and roads are transport and, as my noble friend said in his introduction, so are ports.
That takes me on to my second point. I declare an interest as a harbour commissioner at the port of Fowey in Cornwall. We recently had a visit from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which is spending a lot of time at the moment restructuring the coastguard service, as noble Lords have debated on previous occasions. The MCA came to inspect a passenger ferry, which is a little ferry that takes 12 people across the river. The ferry is already approved by the harbour authority and checked every year for safety, as are the skippers. The MCA informed people that the mooring hook that is used to connect to the steps at each end was unsafe. The same hook—a nice piece of mild steel—has been used for the past 60 years, during which there has been no record of any accidents. It is a hook that enables them to leave quickly if the swell gets too strong, but it is very safe and enables the ferry to operate very well. They have now been told to use a snap shackle instead. Some of us who help skippers on occasions know that the snap shackle can pinch your fingers—I know that other noble Lords have helped and also pinched their fingers on that particular shackle—so, if the Government are intent on saving money on some of these safety issues, surely they should concentrate on the important things rather than on coming to tell a ferry skipper which type of shackle he is supposed to use. Quite honestly, it is the skipper’s job to make sure that the ferry is safe, as approved by the harbour authority. I mentioned that to that chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency when he came to a meeting a couple of weeks ago; I have not had a reply yet.
I hope that the Minister will take that as a real example—and it is a real example, unlike some of these conker fights, which we hear about being unsafe, although I do not really accept that. Let us concentrate on the important things and try to avoid undue and unnecessary inspections of things that have worked perfectly well and will continue to work perfectly well for quite a long time.
My Lords, I am grateful, as always, to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for the opportunity to update the House on how the Government’s proposed changes to the health and safety system will encourage safer and healthier workplaces.
I should begin by reiterating why change is needed. Good health and safety is, of course, vital, and the Government are committed to maintaining health and safety protections. That is the whole point—for health and safety to be effective, it must be a protection, not a burden. Health and safety legislation, overzealously applied, achieves nothing. That is exactly the point that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made about snap shackles. Equally, compensation claims, pursued at random, simply breed cynicism. Our challenge is to lift these burdens and—to paraphrase my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham—to let common sense prevail.
Noble Lords will be aware that the Government are committed to implementing the recommendations in my noble friend’s report, Common Sense, Common Safety, and have recently reinforced this commitment. On 21 March, my right honourable friend the Minister for Employment, Chris Grayling, announced the next steps in the Government’s plans for health and safety reform in Britain. These include setting up an immediate review of health and safety regulation, with a wide-ranging remit including exploring the scope for consolidating, simplifying or abolishing regulations. The review, led by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, director of the risk management centre at King’s College London, is set to make recommendations this autumn. I can assure my noble friend Lord German that the terms of reference will be published on the DWP’s website before the end of May. The overall remit for the review was set out in Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone. In the mean time, I assure noble Lords that the Government are already making good progress in implementing the recommendations set out in the report of my noble friend Lord Young. Those who wish to can view a progress report on my department’s website, detailing progress against all the recommendations.
My noble friend Lord German expressed concern about whether the code of practice would be enforceable in respect of adventure activities. That code of practice will be consulted on shortly. In practice, current licensing does not cover many of the newer adventure activities—I do not think that it covers coasteering, for instance. Health and safety law will continue to apply and will be enforced appropriately.
I shall focus on two aspects of our strategy today: first, the action that we are taking to change the health and safety culture for the benefit of Britain’s workplaces; and, secondly, our focus on reforming so-called no-win no-fee agreements and other aspects of civil litigation funding and costs.
Culture change, whether in health or safety or anything else, does not happen overnight, but its results can be impressive. Perhaps noble Lords will allow me a personal reflection. I well remember meeting officials from Eurotunnel—for which I was working in a more financial capacity—some 20 years ago and comparing the numbers of fatalities that occurred during the construction phase of that amazing project. There were seven on the British side and two on the French side. The factors involved were many and various, but I was struck and a little shocked by how much the French construction industry had achieved for itself compared with its British counterpart and how much its strong safety culture owed to partnership working.
Happily, in the intervening years, much of the British construction industry has followed suit, and the benefits are plain to see. The industry now has a fatal injury rate of 2.2 workers per 100,000 per year, which is among the best in the world.
Against this background I am delighted to report that the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Young, and of the Minister for Employment to deliver culture change are already bearing fruit. Following its recent launch by the Health and Safety Executive, already more than 2,000 health and safety consultants have been approved to join the online Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register. It is not only the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, who has welcomed the register. We confidently expect more consultants to join the scheme as its reputation grows.
I need hardly explain the importance of the new register. It should spell the end of rogue health and safety advisers. All those on the register will be properly accredited to a professional health and safety body, which is good news for health and safety and, indeed, good news for business.
The consultants register is designed to help employers who need general health and safety advice to find a well qualified and experienced consultant who is able to give that advice. Employers using a registered consultant can have confidence that the consultant belongs to a professional body, has had their experience and qualifications assessed and is undertaking continuing professional development; in short, someone who is committed to providing sensible and proportionate advice and is properly insured.
To pick up on my noble friend Lord German’s point, there will be an annual renewal process to make sure that all those on the register still meet the eligibility criteria. The relevant professional body will deal with complaints and, indeed, could take action to remove consultants from that register. The new register is just one of several online tools launched recently by the Health and Safety Executive, with a view to providing small and medium-sized enterprises, and others, with straightforward guidance on how to manage health and safety.
Health and Safety Made Simple, for example, is a concise and easy-to-navigate website, designed specifically for low-risk SMEs. Similarly, four interactive risk assessment tools have been developed—specifically for offices, shops, charity shops and classrooms—and the HSE has also just published simple web advice making clear that health and safety law is not a barrier to volunteering activities, and explaining clearly when the law applies in practice.
Taken together, these new measures will allow businesses to achieve a basic level of health and safety compliance, and that, again, is good news for everyone. A basic level of compliance means lower-risk businesses delivering on their key health and safety obligations—but not being smothered by red tape, nor health and safety inspections, in the process.
As for my noble friend’s point on asbestos, asbestos clearly must remain a priority. Work to educate and raise awareness of the risk is under way and included in the HSE’s forward business plan.
On inspections, perhaps one of the biggest changes is the focusing of inspection and enforcement on those areas where it is needed most. In the current financial climate, there is no point in claiming that the enforcing authorities can inspect all businesses to the same extent and with the same frequency. On the other hand, why should they? Why should a lower-risk business be inspected as much as a higher-risk one? Equally, why should a business that is in serious breach of its health and safety responsibilities not be charged by the enforcing authorities for putting things right?
Let me be clear: we have no intention of reducing inspections in high-hazard industries. In fact, by the end of SR10, the aim is to have more, not less, nuclear and hazardous industries inspectors. As for unnecessary inspections, an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, the statement is designed to drive this change of behaviour.
On inspector numbers, as of April 2011, we have 2,500 front-line staff and we are expecting an increase over the next year, with the figures beyond that date dependent. As I said, there is no intention to reduce numbers substantially although, with the reduction in the number of inspections, by implication the concentration on the higher-risk industries will intensify. This is not a net loss but an additional concentration on the higher-risk industries.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked about the evidence base for lower-risk classifications of industries. Essentially, it comes from the Office for National Statistics, and trends over that show where sectors are improving their health and safety performance. Higher-risk classifications relate to those industries where performance remains a concern. In agriculture, farm inspections have not proved effective in reducing injuries over the years. The current approach involves new training and education and has proved to be more effective.
As for my noble friend’s point about how to decide who to inspect without proactive inspections, clearly there is a whistleblower element and a follow-up of complaints. More importantly, however, there is also a follow-up of those incidents and an investigation where necessary. Other inspections will reflect evidence of risk and be regularly reviewed.
There was a question about why quarrying and transport have been excluded. It is mainly because of improvements in their performance over recent years.
Given the time constraints, I shall not speak about issues of civil justice. Those issues were not specifically raised so I shall perhaps leave them until another occasion.
The noble Lord has not mentioned trade unions once and yet this is a major part of all unions’ work. For many years it was one of my responsibilities within my union to run a scheme that provided assistance to people who had accidents at work. The TUC is very much involved with the prevention of accidents and so on and it is a major part of unions’ work. The Minister did not mention that. Although he referred to the register of people who are giving professional advice and so on, he did not mention unions at all.
I apologise. That was an inadvertent miss-out. Clearly where there is a more responsive, not so proactive system, the unions would have a role in alerting the HSE where there were concerns. Clearly, the role of education and training in reducing health problems in many of these areas will be important.
One area in which I am most interested is what we will find from the sickness absence review. This has now been launched and will be looking at periods of sickness absence of 28 weeks. Stress-related and mental health-related issues account for around 40 per cent of such absence, and it will be very interesting to see whether we can use the new arrangements for managing sickness absence to ratchet up how employers look after their staff. I know that the sickness absence review team is actively looking at that. Therefore, there is a health and not just a safety angle here.
I am sorry to intervene again and the Minister may wish to write to me, but perhaps I may clarify two points. First, can he confirm that the evidence base on which the categorisation has been determined takes account of evidence relating to propensity for ill health in sectors, as well as accidents and fatalities? Secondly, in relation to reactive, as well as proactive, inspections, the document, if I read it correctly, says that in both areas—that is, the high-risk areas and areas of concern, but not the low-risk areas—the HSE will continue to undertake inspection for enforcement purposes or to follow up complaints when such an intervention appears necessary. Can the Minister confirm that there is no intention of having reactive inspections for what are classed as lower-risk areas—for example, the transport sector, electrical engineering, and indeed education provision, as we know that asbestos in schools is a continuing problem?
I am happy to confirm both those points. The first, concerning health, is clearly part of the statistical base that will alert the HSE. Secondly, where there is concern, the HSE will respond whether it is a lower risk or a higher risk, and that is exactly as I understood the section of the document to which the noble Lord referred. It says that in as many words.
My Lords, perhaps we should pursue this matter outside the Committee, as I do not think that it does. The comment seems to relate to the first two areas—areas of concern and areas of high risk—but not those of low risk. However, perhaps we can deal with that in correspondence.
I should be happy to write a full letter on that point. In conclusion, I am confident that our health and safety changes are a force for good, ensuring that civil justice and health and safety law are applied sensibly. The emphasis should be on addressing real risks and preventing death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work-related activities. I have said before that we will not make the United Kingdom a safer place by wrapping everyone in cotton wool and avoiding all risk; we will do it by delivering a health and safety system that is fair, balanced and proportionate.
My Lords, the Committee stands adjourned until 4.30 pm.