Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)

WEDNESDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2001

MR CHRIS GRAY, MR JOHN DEMPSTER, MR DAVID WHITEHEAD AND MR JONATHAN SLOGGETT

  140. You have raised it with them.
  (Mr Dempster) Yes, I have.

Dr Ladyman

  141. When did you write?
  (Mr Dempster) In November.[2]

  142. Quite a long time to wait for a reply.
  (Mr Dempster) To be fair, it is a difficult issue for them and I know they have been in touch with the Commission.

Mr Bennett

  143. The industry has a pretty poor safety record, has it not?
  (Mr Dempster) I should like to say that we are certainly not complacent about safety. Safety is always in our minds and it should be. We felt that some of the language in Modern Ports was a little extreme, particularly in the use of the word "unacceptable". I think I should also say that some of the statements about comparisons between the safety record in our industry and other industries were new to us. We had not previously seen these comparisons and since the publication of the paper we have gone to some lengths to try to investigate this. All I can really say is that it is a really difficult area to make comparisons of safety records between different industries where inevitably the risks are very different. We are certainly not complacent, but we would not accept that the safety issue is perhaps as serious as the paper Modern Ports suggested.

  144. What discussions have you had with the Health and Safety Executive about these sorts of issues?
  (Mr Dempster) Immediately after Modern Ports was published we entered into correspondence with the Health and Safety Executive on these matters. I should say of course that the Port Safety Organisation, from whom I understand you will be taking evidence in one of your later sessions, are obviously closer to the subject than we are.

  145. But you are in a sense employing quite a lot of people who are involved in the accidents, are you not?
  (Mr Dempster) Certainly; yes. May I also say for the record that the accident record in the port industry has improved enormously in recent years.

  146. But that is due to containerisation, is it not?
  (Mr Dempster) That is no doubt part of the reason. The fact is that the average number of deaths in the industry 30 years ago was 27 a year.

Chairman

  147. Yes, but you are actually handling many more people.
  (Mr Dempster) The present average is under three. We are not complacent and three deaths is three too many, but it is worth recording that 30 years ago the death rate was ten times as high.

Mr Bennett

  148. Is there a pattern between the safety record of the big ports and the smaller ports? Is there any pattern in that way?
  (Mr Dempster) Not that I am aware of. If I may say so, that is something the Port Safety Organisation may be able to help you with.

  149. What about the question of training? Safety and training tend to go together. How is that dealt with by the industry?
  (Mr Sloggett) May I answer that as one of my other hats is as Chairman of the British Ports Industry Training organisation and you have us before you in a few weeks time as well. In training matters we have a training organisation which is an accredited National Training Organisation, perhaps one of the smallest in UK industrial terms. We are active in setting competency standards for staff and we work closely with the Ports Safety Organisation to make sure we do not tread on each other's toes in sorting out training.

  150. Is it logical to have two separate bodies for training and for safety?
  (Mr Sloggett) Probably not but it is the way things are at the moment. Speaking entirely personally, it (ie two organisations) is not something I particularly would like. While we have two trade association it is very difficult to get those into an industry representative form. Perhaps when the trade associations have come together then we shall be able to put PSO and BPIT into the trade body.

  151. What about the split between permanent staff and people who are employed by agencies? Does that not make it more difficult to impose good standards? If you have people working in a particular place day in day out, they understand the safety problems, whereas if you are bringing people in, it is ever so easy for them not to quite understand the consequences of something they are doing.
  (Mr Sloggett) That is true and it is perhaps worth making the point that many of the organisations representing the industry lie outside of the direct control of the port authorities. In the main we have been talking about ports qua port authorities for much of our time but of course people are employed by a whole range of organisations, labour providers, stevedores, as well as port authorities. Nevertheless the Port Safety Organisation has been instrumental in getting a code of good practice together for stevedoring organisations of whatever sort. That is something to their credit and no doubt they will talk to you about it when they come.

  152. Do you think that the majority of stevedore groups now observe that good practice?
  (Mr Sloggett) I am quite sure that the members of the Port Safety Organisation and BPIT abide by it, but obviously not everybody is a member of those organisations.

  153. So there is still the possibility that the bad employer has a competitive advantage over the good employer.
  (Mr Sloggett) Absolutely.
  (Mr Whitehead) There was an initiative last year on non-permanent employees with a code of practice, but perhaps more importantly a passport scheme so they could actually physically demonstrate who they were, what competences they had and this is part of an overall attempt to make sure that those people remoter from the trade associations and the main groups get the safety message through strongly.

  154. Is that working or can you get these passports for a reasonable price in a pub?
  (Mr Whitehead) Yes, it seems to be working extremely well. It came in on 1 October and there is a review after a year to look at its effectiveness. That is the kind of practical measure we are introducing to try to improve the situation.

Chairman

  155. Most other transport industries have a legal responsibility which is not diluted by passing the responsibility down to an agency. Why should it be any different in ports?
  (Mr Whitehead) It is not as far as I know. A number of organisations in ports may not be agents. They may be entirely independent organisations.

  156. That is something which could be dealt with by Government deciding at least to consult you on a series of constraints which would make the organisations simpler to understand. There is no logic in having two training organisations, is there?
  (Mr Whitehead) That is true. The Port Safety Organisation is responsible for safety issues and improving competency in the safety area. BPIT does everything else including whatever help it can give to PSO.

  157. Do you agree that it is not the Government's job to run the ports industry?
  (Mr Dempster) Yes, we certainly do.

  158. What comment would you make and what role would you give to the Government in the broader approach to ports policy signalled by Modern Ports—£12, available from Her Majesty's Stationery Office?
  (Mr Dempster) First of all, we do very much endorse the statement that it is not the Government's responsibility to run the ports industry. We work closely and we have a cordial relationship with Ports Division, perhaps at times a slightly tense one.

  159. I am glad that tension exists somewhere.
  (Mr Dempster) In terms of a comment on Modern Ports, we do detect a certain greater degree of interventionism in the Department's attitude to the ports industry than we are accustomed to.


2   Note by witness: The letter was in fact sent on 8 December 2000. Back


 
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