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Health and Safety Executive

Volume 753: debated on Thursday 3 April 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the findings of the triennial review of the Health and Safety Executive.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and in doing so draw attention to my interest in the register.

My Lords, Martin Temple’s triennial review of the HSE concluded that the functions performed by the Health and Safety Executive are required and that it should be retained as a non-departmental public body. He made recommendations concerning potential efficiencies and opportunities to raise income, and the Minister for Disabled People has asked the HSE to work on these. Other recommendations require further consideration, and we will respond more fully later in the year.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for what I take to be a positive reply. The Minister will be aware that the report refers to the “nearly universal praise” for the HSE, which it considers a reflection on its,

“impartiality … independence … professionalism and technical competence”.

What assurances can the Minister give that any requirement placed on the HSE to increase its commercial income will not impair those vital attributes, and what more can the Government do to promote the excellence of the HSE and the UK health and safety system?

I am grateful to the noble Lord for that question. I think that Martin Temple pointed out exactly that. He paid tribute to the work of the HSE, which it does day in, and day out, in maintaining safety standards. One reason why this country enjoys such high standards of health and safety in the workplace is because of the work of the HSE. It is of course necessary to ensure that its work is efficient and effective. For that reason, he suggested that the HSE focus its efforts on major hazard sites rather than those areas of relatively low risk. That is what it has been doing over the past couple of years.

My Lords, one of the recommendations in the report is to delink the need to prop up the budget and fines for intervention. We have been here before with speed cameras, where there was a suspicion that police forces were increasing their budgets by overuse of speed cameras. How will my noble friend learn lessons from that, and from the recommendation in the report that fines for intervention should not be linked to propping up the budget of the HSE? What steps will he take to implement that?

It is a good question. The point is that fines for intervention are where visits and inspections have taken place and problems have been found which have resulted in prosecution. In those circumstances, the view of the HSE and of the Government is that the taxpayer should not have to pick up the bill; the person who has not been fulfilling the obligation to implement the rules correctly should pay the price.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Health and Safety Executive played a key role on the Olympic construction site. Our country should be very proud that not a single person died as a result of that building work. Following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord German, the independent report states that the link between funding of the regulator and income from fines is a “dangerous model”. How will the Minister ensure that the HSE’s integrity and independence will be protected?

That is a very good point. I certainly endorse what the noble Baroness said about the Olympics. There were 46,000 people working on that site and to have not one fatality is exemplary. That gives me the opportunity to point out that that is one thing that the UK does extraordinarily well. Fatalities in the workplace are much lower in the UK, at 0.71 per 100,000 workers, compared to an equivalent rate of 0.81 in Germany, 1.57 in Italy and 2.49 elsewhere. That is an important record, showing that the HSE is working correctly with contractors in major projects, and this will ensure that that work continues in future.

My Lords, one question raised in discussion of the review was the desirability of increasing commercial income for the HSE. Notwithstanding the Government’s view of that, will the Minister take this opportunity to assure the House that they have no plans to privatise the HSE?

Yes, I can very quickly do that. There is absolutely no question of privatising the HSE, but Martin Temple, himself a businessman with a distinguished background in engineering and manufacturing, recognised that there were great opportunities, because the Health and Safety Executive is genuinely admired around the world. A lot of people are coming to look for good-will advice as to how to operate their systems, and I think it is absolutely right for the taxpayer that the HSE ought to be free to exploit those commercial opportunities to enable it to continue doing its excellent work around the UK.