Latest figures for health and safety interventions by Local Authority Environmental Health Departments show a concerning picture’ indicating authorities are dancing to the Tory Government’s ideological tune and using their deregulatory agenda to justify cuts in health and safety visits to the workplaces where they have a statutory responsibility to enforce.
The launch of the local authority enforcement statistics covering 2016/17 would have largely slipped by unnoticed had it not been for the work of health and safety activists and campaign groups throughout the UK and the HSE has certainly not stretched their media and communications budget publicising what is a pretty bleak picture.
As Steve Tombs, Professor of Crime at the Open University notes from the figures “Birmingham Council made 39 h&s visits in 16/17. It “enforces” h&s law in 23k premises. For any business that’s 1 inspection every 578 years!!” ; a shocking but unsurprising statistic that follows years of attacks on health and safety regulation since the nonsense from Lord Young that was Common Sense; Common Safety .
Scottish Hazards has stripped out the enforcement figures for the 32 Scottish local authorities and sadly they make depressing reading;
- of 125030 businesses within their control only 760 were visited in 2016/17
- Dumfries & Galloway, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Scottish Borders, Stirling and West Lothian did not carry out one planned visit of workplaces in their control. (28% of all Scottish authorities did not carry out one single planned visit!!)
- Edinburgh City Council with responsibility for 15299 workplaces carried out 30 planned visits, 0.2% of their workplaces received a proactive scheduled health and safety visit.
- Glasgow was even worse; 16 premises out of a potential 15486 (0.1%) received a planned visit.
Lord Young’s report published in October 2010, in which he did little but demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of hazard and risk, maitakenly identified workers in shops and offices as being of low risk of harm, a view that was wholeheartedly supported by the Government when they published Good Health and Safety; Good for Everyone in May 2011; the Government dictat to the HSE and Local Authorities on where and how often they can enforce and ultimately the death knell for enforcement by local authorities. The Government expected local authorities to follow the instruction issued to the HSE to cut proactive inspections by a third and when taken along with the ban on inspections of low risk workplaces we witness what was the start of an enforcement race to the bottom, a race in which authorities have sadly been prepared to participate with some Scottish local authorities already perilously close to the finishing line.
A flurry of activity of reports and papers attacking health and safety enforcement lasting just over a year concluded with the publication of Reclaiming health and safety for all: An independent review of health and safety legislation by Radnar Lofstedt. One of the recommendations in that report effectively handed over control of local authority enforcement activity to the HSE, he recommended that “legislation is changed to give HSE the authority to direct all local authority health and safety inspection and enforcement activity, in order to ensure that it is consistent and targeted towards the most risky workplaces”.
In what might be seen as firefighting the HSE is currently carrying out an informal consultation on their co-regulatory vision for Local Authority and HSE regulatory services, their desired outcomes are
- Consistency of high quality regulation across HSE and LA enforced businesses;
- Shared regulatory awareness through joint engagement, consultation and communication, and
- Sustainable arrangements for enforcement of work related health and safety.
It is hard to see how bland these outcomes can be achieved when the vast majority of workplaces are no longer subject to “high quality” regulatory enforcement where exposure to risks associated with local authority enforced workplaces such as stress, violence and limb disorders are not deemed worthy of attention by these high quality regulators and the decision makers in local authorities who have played part in the regulatory race to the bottom.