Letter: Safety and the HSE

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The Independent Online
under fire" (7 November) previews the Environment Select Committee's possible criticisms of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). David Bergman accuses us of under-doing prosecutions and accident investigations. But he is playing in a different ballpark. He believes that the Robens Committee got things wrong in its 1972 report on health and safety at work: but that report underpins the law that Parliament passed with all-party backing, and is the basis for all that the HSE and the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) do.

Prosecutions and investigations are worthwhile to punish flagrant wrongdoing and to deter other failures. But resources for workplace health and safety will never be unlimited: more prosecution and investigation means fewer preventative inspections and follow-ups of complaints. I have yet to see evidence that more prosecution improves health and safety. I do have evidence that the HSE's approach has cut the fatal injury rate for employees to a quarter of what it was in the early 1970s.

Apparently I have failed to demand enough resources. In fact the HSC/E has won better-than-average expenditure settlements in recent years. Ministers gave us pounds 4.5m last year and an extra pounds 63m for this and the next two years. You do not always have to shout to the public gallery to make your case.

As for rail accidents: it was the HSE/C that called attention to the increase in SPADs and demanded action by the rail companies. It was the HSE that proposed regulations to speed up action on train protection systems. Nor have we approved the signalling system at Paddington: we chased Railtrack for further action in August.


Health & Safety Executive

London SE1