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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460 - 479)

WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001

MR BARCLAY BRAITHWAITE, MR MIKE COMPTON, MR JONATHAN SLOGGETT AND MR BOB JONES

  460. They said that about accidents across the whole of the industry, they did not say that about the ports, did they?
  (Mr Compton) They said that about industry generally. We say that about our industry because we run a voluntary arrangement with our members, a voluntary scheme whereby they are invited to send to us on a annual basis details of their accidents and we collate those to get a national set of figures. They are telling us that we have reached a sort of plateau.

  461. That is just taking, if you like, the more responsible employers that belong to your organisation rather than the freeloaders. What proportion of the industry are freeloaders who belong to neither of your organisations?
  (Mr Compton) No one knows the number, we have heard estimates. In PSO membership the member companies employ 20,000 people. We know that there are 150 to 200 probably very small cargo handling companies, stevedore companies, they are not big, they are very small and they are part of the industry and they supply a service and they are not in our membership. Indeed, they tend not to be in anybody's membership, they tend to be outside of circle, that is the term we use. One of the challenges that we have had as an industry is to not only tell them what is going on and try to get them involved but really to try and get them engaged. As far as this NPE code was concerned it was deliberately written so that the port authority in each area who would knows these companies, because they are working in their port, would write to them, tell them about the code and when it was being developed, so they had the opportunity to hear about it and comment on it if they wanted to and secondly, when it was adopted to send it to them and seek at a senior level a commitment to apply that code. That is what the code actually says. Another part of our survey would be to see just how effective that has been.

Chairman

  462. They caused you a bit of unfair competition, did they?
  (Mr Compton) They could. It is certainly possible to get commercial advantage out of not applying safety.

  463. If you do not comply on safety regulations you are unfair competition compared with somebody else.
  (Mr Jones) Can I confirm really that on our database, which is probably very similar to Mr Compton's there are some 250 or so organisations who are not ports but other companies that work in the ports, and just over 200 of those are not members of our organisation and I do not believe they are members of his organisation either. They are the ones that we are currently trying to address and trying to get the message through to in order that they can raise their skill levels, get themselves qualified in order to confirm that they are competent people to work in our industry.

Mr O'Brien

  464. Can I just follow on with that thought, the European Commission has announced that a new Directive on Access to Port Services, the provision of support services at the ports, is to be introduced, which will intensify the competition. What impact will that Directive have on port services on safety, welfare and training within the port itself?
  (Mr Sloggett) I think it is very difficult to say at this stage because the Directive is so new and I think we really have yet to get to grips with it. It does go out of its way to say that the authority which controls access to ports will have the right, and presumably the duty, to impose conditions on access and to address issues of safety. It will not be free access to port services but it will be a controlled access of presumably competent people. On the other hand, it is quite clear that the Directive is about increasing competition. It will be up to port authorities to find the balance between setting safety conditions and meeting the competitive terms.

  465. How would you implement that in your port, Mr Sloggett?
  (Mr Sloggett) The Directive comes in two parts, if the port authority limits access then it must have concessions according to the conditions laid down in the Directive. If it does not limit access then it does not actually have to meet those tendering conditions. In my port I hope very much that in the areas indicated in the Directive we will not have to limit access and things will remain much as they are, so that, for example, if you wish to start a towing service in Dover you can do so now if you want to, we do not limit access.

  466. Has the industry made representations to the Government about this Directive?
  (Mr Sloggett) As I understand it the British Ports Association were at the lunch that was mentioned to you that took place with Mr Prescott today. We do expect the DETR to be undertaking a formal of consultation exercise on this Directive. I think we are, to be honest, still trying to come to grips with what this is going to mean in our ports, because so it is so new.

  467. Sorry to personalise this, because of the size and importance of your port you do not have any bar on commercial access, if there is room and if the facilities are available at the times needed?
  (Mr Sloggett) Generally that is true. Certainly in Dover it is true for a number of services, although not for all. The port authority moors ferries in Dover and mooring is one of the services that is referred to in the Ports Services Directive. Although at the moment we allow free access for towing we do not allow free access for mooring. We will have to come to grips with the Directive in that area.

  468. In a general sense presumably decisions that you take as an authority in relation to the port are governed by your commercial interests, are they?
  (Mr Sloggett) We have our commercial interests amongst others of which safety is obviously an important one.

  469. Has there ever been a suggestion you are unduly discriminating?
  (Mr Sloggett) There have been times. There was a time at Dover when we checked in the passenger traffic going on the ferries, which we no longer do because the ferry operators wanted to self-handle that traffic, which is another term used in the Directive. Over the years there have been negotiations, between us and our customers usually, about who should do what, that is common in most ports.

  470. What I am really trying to get at is, if you were asked honestly just to give a general opinion would you say that major ports in this country complied with the overall terms of the Directive or not?
  (Mr Sloggett) No, I do not think I could do that because, as I think you heard earlier on, Felixstowe is a vertically integrated port, it provides all of the services itself, it handles all of the containers. Another port like that is Bristol, two major ports in really quite constrained circumstances.

  471. Both of them are getting competition from either side of them.
  (Mr Sloggett) Certainly. They feel very threatened by the Directive, whereas London, which is on a river, and where land is not a problem and where people can have terminals much as they like, I do not think it is going to have a problem with the Directive.

Mrs Gorman

  472. I wanted to refer back to Mr Compton's remarks, you implied there were quite a number of small ports that were either escaping or avoiding the health and safety requirement and somehow or another they were not as well protected. Was that meaning of what you said?
  (Mr Compton) No, it was not small ports. There are quite a reasonable number of small companies who handle cargo and employ people to carry out that activity. I am not saying that they are not complying with safety laws either because we do not know whether they are or not, the enforcement of the safety rules is for the Health and Safety Executive and their inspectors. They are outside the circle of the organised part of the industry, which is the major part of the industry. We do not know whether they are or whether they are not. There was a dreadful accident that has really given point to all this concern, and that was in a company like that, outside the circle, and operating on its own land, for example. There are quite a lot—Bob Jones suggested 200, I said 150 to 200, it is around that number—very small companies but not ports.
  (Mr Braithwaite) One of the components of the safety step-change initiative that we are currently trying to address forward is trying to bring these smaller companies more within the circle, as Mike Compton describes. There are cases of good practice in some ports where through things like liaison groups they are engaging these small companies. It is wrong to assert that these small companies are not acting safely, many of them do work safely, they have to comply with the regulations. We certainly feel they should be more engaged and there should be more dialogue in that respect. In that area it is not only important what we as a port industry are doing, there is an important part to be played by the Health and Safety Executive in that because they are the enforcing regulatory authority.

Chairman

  473. I do not want to go into that because we shall be talking to them.
  (Mr Braithwaite) Could I, maybe, just make one point on health and safety, and it really relates back to what we are trying to do within industry in terms of an initiative and in responding to the Government's strategy statement, part of that is continuing to work in partnership with the Health and Safety Executive and also the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. It is important, therefore, that they are given the resources to do that. I am assuming that since the Government have launched the revitalisation statement they will be given the resources, that is certainly what we are looking for in terms of the partnership.

Mrs Gorman

  474. Can I ask one other question, it says here in your submission, the wording is interesting, "An accident rate of about 30 per cent of what it was 30 years ago". Does that mean that there has been a very great improvement, a very great improvement? 30 per cent now means it is 70 per cent better, or do I have it wrong?
  (Mr Compton) The figure for 1999, which was the year that most of the statistics we are dealing with at the moment refer to, was almost exactly 30 per cent, these are the figures that we have, of the figure that applied in 1969. If we take the 30 years back from where we are, to 1971, the figure was over one in four dock workers suffered a serious personal injury in that year, which was an awful figure frankly, an awful record.

Chairman

  475. What is the 30 per cent of?
  (Mr Compton) It was 30 per cent of an accident rate. The accident rate was at a level in 1969, and 30 per cent of that was the accident rate in 1999, so it is a reduction.

Mrs Gorman

  476. What serious accidents are we talking about here?
  (Mr Compton) It is all based on the accidents that have to be reported within law to the Health and Safety Executive, which essentially are basically if you are injured and you are away from work for more than three working days, that is the basic level. Beyond that they are reportable, they might not be serious, they might be serious, they could be fatal. All of those are lumped together.

Chairman

  477. It is one in 12 instead of one in four?
  (Mr Compton) Something of that order, yes.
  (Mr Braithwaite) Can I add to that, because I think it is relevant in terms of what is happening now, these were the accident figures in the dock industry, and I expect mirrored in other industries at that time at the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s. As a result of that in 1974 we had the Health and Safety at Work Act to try and push safety forward significantly. I think it has done so and the figures have been demonstrated in our industries. Where we are at at the moment is trying to move that whole thing forward.

  478. Gentlemen, you have been very tolerant, I want to ask you one or two things before I allow you to escape. What progress have you made in your nationally recognised qualifications for port workers?
  (Mr Jones) Over the last few years we have developed NVQs for all of the operative levels, that is the people who are doing cargo handling, the people who are involved in marine operations and for those involved with passenger handling.

  479. Which is what, all of the employers, the employers plus the unions?
  (Mr Jones) Yes. The work is being coordinated by BPIT but the actual expertise for writing standards has come from the industry.


 
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