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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 486 - 499)

WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001

MR NICK STARLING, MR GRAEME HENDERSON, AND MR BOB MELDRUM

Chairman

  486. Good evening, gentlemen, I apologise for keeping you waiting. Can you identify yourselves?
  (Mr Henderson) I am Graeme Henderson, Head of Marine Policy, HSE.
  (Mr Starling) I am Nick Starling, Director of Safety Policy, HSE.
  (Mr Meldrum) I am Bob Meldrum, Head of the Docks Unit, the Health and Safety Executive, Fields Operation Directorate.

  487. Did any of you want to make some general remarks?  (Mr Starling) Not particularly. We sent you a memorandum and we also sent you a report of a recent conference on "Safer Docks", which was held last week.

  488. Do you want to tell us what you think from your perspective are the greatest challenges facing the ports?
  (Mr Starling) From our perspective the greatest challenge is the fact that there is an unacceptable high rate of death and injury in the ports industry. It is the most dangerous land based industry in the United Kingdom. It has a rate of nearly 3,000 accidents per 100,000 workers, the exact figure is 2,933. If I can use one or two comparators, that figure is higher than coal mining and quarrying, which is 2,732; it is higher than construction which, as you are probably aware, is an area of major concern to HSE, where the figure is 1,290. The provisional figures for last year showed that there were three deaths, there were 115 major injury accidents and 591 three day accidents. I believe, subject to correction, there has already been one death this year.

Mr Stevenson

  489. Could I just ask for clarification on that, Mr Starling, I am looking at the Maritime Statistics Branch of the DETR Supplementary Memorandum dated March 2001, "There are no precise statistics available on accidents occurring at ports". You have just given us some statistics, how precise are they?
  (Mr Starling) In a moment I will ask my colleague to elaborate on those. We think that statistics can obviously be refined and refined and we are aware there are some difficulties in assessing the number of people employed in ports.

  490. Forgive me for interrupting, refined and refined, I ought to, in fairness, quote the preamble to the paragraph, it points to number of area statistical information that is available that is either ambiguous or incomplete, not refined.

  Chairman: What number paragraph is that?

Mr Stevenson

  491. It is not numbered, it is on the first page and it is headed, "Gaps in Information".
  (Mr Starling) My answer to that would be that the statistics are good enough for us to know how bad they are in terms of health and safety, they would have to change fairly dramatically to move away from that.

  492. It then goes on to say, "The information collected by HSE is based on a secondary analysis of reports classified under standard industrial classification 63220 (unsupported water transport activities)". What does that mean? What does "secondary" mean?
  (Mr Meldrum) I will try and explain them to you. 63220 covers supporting services to water transport, and those are the figures that my colleague has just quoted to you, those are accidents reported to HSE from firms who are allocated to that standard industrial classification. That does include other industries, small bits and pieces. We did an analysis of those accidents for 1999/2000 and we found that 7 per cent were not port related. We believe that the vast majority of those accidents are port related. That does not mean that those accidents even then include all of the accidents that occur in ports. There are accidents to visitors which come under other classifications. We do have other ways of identifying those. You cannot put those into rates because we have no way of working out how many of those people in other industries are in ports and for how long they are in ports. What we can do is use the annual employment survey data published by the Office of National Statistics for SIC 63220 and, therefore, we use those figures to prepare the rates.

  493. Would you also agree with the DETR that say that although industry publications provide information on the facilities available at some ports it is difficult to extract this information meaningfully or consistently when comparing between ports. In other words, they are saying that for the physical attribute of the port, which presumably has some possible influence on the safety environment, there is just not any meaningful information available. Would you agree with that assertion?
  (Mr Meldrum) I am not quite sure what the writer is getting at. It is difficult to compare ports anyway, in that in each individual port the number of accidents are not terribly great, so there is doubt as to whether you are looking at a natural variation or whether you are looking at something that is statistically significant. The other thing is that different ports have different types of operation. If I look at one which is highly automated as opposed to one that uses break bulk and lo-lo (load-on, load-off) then I would expect a different accident rate anyway.

  494. The same document says, "No precise data exists on employment reports". Would you agree with that?
  (Mr Meldrum) The employment data that we use is provided by the Office of National Statistics. I cannot tell you exactly how they collect that.

  495. The suggestions that we have received in evidence are that two aspects of industry may need to be more scrutinised in terms of health and safety than others, one is casualisation, casual labour and two is the smaller ports. What would your comments be from a health and safety perspective on both those aspects of the industry?
  (Mr Starling) I think that the use of casual labour contractors coming in is a concern. There are areas where there is lack of training and lack of safety management and the lack of control of contractors can be an issue. Those are areas that are important to concentrate on. In terms of differences between larger and smaller ports, they all have their own different risks and hazards in them.

  Chairman: Before you pass on to Mr Meldrum, is it completely different in the port industry, I apologise I ought to know this, in legal terms from something like the railway, because after all it does not matter whether Railtrack has a dozen different contractors because legally the responsibility resides with them and, therefore, if the contractor does not operate safely it does not matter how many layers they are down the line Railtrack still have the legal responsibility. You get the impression that in ports—

  Mr Stevenson: I was coming to that.

  Chairman: Mr Stevenson was going to ask you that.

  Mr Stevenson: May I?

  Chairman: Please do.

Mr Stevenson

  496. Sorry to interrupt you Mrs Dunwoody. You do seem, if I may say so, a little ambiguous in your answer, I hope that is not being unfair, that may be my fault, how does the HSE monitor the situation regarding health and safety as it effects casual labour? How do you monitor the application in smaller ports?
  (Mr Meldrum) We have inspectors who visit ports. In the last complete year our inspectors did 635 separate visits, that is not necessarily to 635 different ports. You might go to a single port and visit half a dozen contractors or users of the port. When they go there they look at compliance and, if necessary, issue improvement or prohibition notices, or if necessary prosecute. They may go there to investigate an accident. Something like 343 of those visits were inspections as opposed to investigations.

Mr Bennett

  497. How many notices were issued?
  (Mr Meldrum) 35.

Chairman

  498. Out of your 635.
  (Mr Meldrum) That does not mean that no action was taken on the others.

Mr Bennett

  499. 30 notices, on how many occasions did they actually stop the job?
  (Mr Meldrum) I do not have a note of how many were prohibition notices, inspectors may have got the job stopped on an informal basis, and I have no way of telling that.


 
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