Fears grow that Government will cash in on health and safety ‘police’

Ministers could commercialise swathes of the health and safety “police”, a move that insiders fear could be the “first step to privatisation”.

The Government has been seeking ways of profiting from the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) expertise. Its £145.5m budget regulates workplace safety and welfare and the HSE is prominent in dangerous industries.

Next month, the Department for Work and Pensions, which sponsors the HSE, will formally back proposals to increase money-spinning work at the Health and Safety Laboratory in Buxton, Derbyshire.

The laboratory provides technical support to HSE’s investigations, attending 200 gas safety incidents every year. It is said to house evidence from the Hillsborough disaster and track from the Potters Bar rail crash in 2002.

In his three-yearly review of the HSE published in January, Martin Temple said the laboratory’s 359 staff and technical facilities do not solely support the watchdog, but also help government agencies with scientific analysis. This includes work that other countries would be willing to pay for, such as providing expert witnesses. 

The laboratory already has some limited commercial operations, but Mr Temple added: “By developing a commercial arm, it will have the potential to seek joint ventures and collaborative work that will both increase its own commercial income and widen the opportunities for partnership with private sector providers, voluntary bodies and universities.”

Mr Temple ruled out full-scale privatisation, fearing the state could lose a pool of unique knowledge. This includes expertise in ventilation systems and chemical toxicology that has been used to reduce respiratory disease from exposure to paints during car repair work.

DWP insiders said work minister Mike Penning would back commercialisation in a formal response to the review after the European elections, but will not propose a sell-off. Minutes from a recent HSE board meeting show the agency is preparing for this backing and has hired an interim commercial director.

But officials and union leaders are concerned letting the laboratory act more like a business means privatisation is almost inevitable. “Commercialisation is fine, but it’s fair to say this could be seen as a first step to privatisation,” said a Whitehall source.

“The HSE has the vital role of promoting and enforcing health and safety laws,” said Unison’s health and safety head Tracey Harding. “It is not designed to be a money-making machine.”

Mr Penning will also back an idea to charge businesses that have good health and safety systems but nevertheless want to improve them further, for extra, voluntary inspections. Firms in the chemicals sector often struggle to get facilities built because of the complicated planning process.

A DWP spokesman said: “We have no plans to privatise the HSE or its laboratory, but are considering broadening the scope and increasing the pace of commercial work already done.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Reporting Manager

£70000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Financial Reporting Manager i...

Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

£13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific