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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500 - 519)



Mr Donohoe

  500. You have statutory duties and obligations that government has put on you, we heard earlier the fact that it was not possible to get some statistics, you could enforce that, could you not, or does it require further statutory powers?
  (Mr Henderson) There are certain regulations which do require the reporting of accidents and also dangerous occurrences. It is fair to say, we have to say, across all industry there is a degree of under reporting. Certainly if HSE come across the situation where a serious accident has not been reported then in addition to prosecuting the company concerned for the circumstance of that accident you can also prosecute them for the non-reporting of the accident in the first place. That is something that we adopt a very strong approach to.


  501. Is that just the company concerned or is it, as I am asking you, further back down the line? What controls do you have over a port where people are being employed by contractors and the contractors are not complying with the law?
  (Mr Henderson) The law applies to all of the companies, they apply to the port owner or operator, as well as all of the contractors.

  502. When you move in and you find that somebody has either not reported an accident, which by definition qualifies for reporting, or there has been some instance which is manifestly unsafe, do you just deal with that contractor or do you go further back down the line and say that you too have a responsibility?
  (Mr Meldrum) Can I say, this has been one of the most important areas, because it is not like on a construction site or British Rail where the contractors are actually working for the person who owns the port—

  503. I understand that.
  (Mr Meldrum)—quite a lot of them are hired by somebody else.

  Chairman: That is precisely what concerns this Committee.

Mr Donohoe

  504. Casualisation has brought that about.
  (Mr Meldrum) It is not as simple as that. If I take a typical port, this is not the case for all ports, I will provide common facilities, I will take fees when ships come in, I will organise mooring, but quite often I do not load and unload the ship, the stevedore will do that. Sometimes a stevedore does it with their own work force, and sometimes when they are short of staff or they have a peak of work they pull in people from elsewhere. A lot of the casualisation is in that area, when you pull in people to meet your peak demands. Some people have a very small residual work force and bring in a lot, some people have a lot of their own and bring in a few.


  505. Now I understand the work pattern, can I ask you again, when you are confronted with a situation where someone has either been involved in an accident or has, for some reason, been involved in an incident which needs reporting do you just deal with that contractor or do you go further back and ask the people in charge of the port? Given what you are saying, I hear you clearly, I hear you clearly, but I want to know how far back the responsibility lies and what effort you put into finding out whether that port is operating safely?
  (Mr Meldrum) We do put effort into whether our port is operating safely. Our instructions to inspectors are to go up the chain. It is not always possible to prove that the port has a legal responsibility, because in some cases it does not have under the legislation, although there are a lot of duties to co-operate with others, and there are a lot of duties on people who provide premises. We do go up the chain as far as we possibly can. We are encouraging ports to take a much greater interest in what is going on in that port. That is one of our priority areas.

Mr Donohoe

  506. How many inspectors do you have that are solely responsible for working in the docks?
  (Mr Meldrum) None of our inspectors deal with ports solely, they cover a range of industries, probably something like 20 or 30 inspectors are regularly dealing with ports, probably up to 70 could deal with a port. We have very few front line inspectors who deal with a specific industry, except for railways and the nuclear industry.

  507. And mines?
  (Mr Meldrum) Mines are dealt with specifically.

  508. This is an industry where you yourself have said there is a greater casualty rate than even the mines.
  (Mr Meldrum) The risks it presents are no different from the risks in other parts of industry, they may be greater but falls from heights, handling injuries and handling hazards are not that different from those in other industries. An inspector who is an experienced inspector should be able to cope and we would expect them to cope. We provide training courses for all those who go on to ports for the first time.

  509. Can I take you back to my first question in terms of statutory duty. Do you believe there is need for any further responsibility to be given to you? Some of the statistics that seem to be extrapolated did not give me the impression or any confidence to believe many of the statistics. Do you have statutory obligations on you to gather these statistics?
  (Mr Henderson) We do gather statistics and we would argue that our statistics are fit for purpose. What they indicate—


  510. That is a nice phrase, Mr Henderson, "fit for whose purpose"?
  (Mr Henderson) What I mean by that is that it would certainly be disproportionate to the costs of the HSE to collect additional statistics. The importance of the accident statistics—

  511. Do not worry, you had your advertisement through the previous witnesses, we have heard you need some more money.
  (Mr Henderson) That is not the point I would like to make. The important thing about national statistics is that they should not necessarily be regarded as an exact science. What we need to demonstrate is, first of all, the trends in accident statistics and also indicate whether a particular industry is high, medium or low risk. What, in fact, our statistics show is that, in fact, accidents are creeping upwards, they are rising—they may have reached a plateau but they are now starting to rise again—and they clearly indicate that docks are amongst the most dangerous industries on the land. To that extent we would argue that our statistics do meet those purposes.

Mr Donohoe

  512. What has been the impact of the ratification of ILO Convention 152 on dock workers and health and safety?
  (Mr Henderson) I have to say that the United Kingdom government has yet to ratify Convention 152, we are looking to do so. It is a convention which deals specifically with the health and safety of dock workers. Indeed, our principal regulations which affect the docks industry, namely the Docks Regulations, are based very heavily upon that ILO Convention. I have to say that the previous administrations have decided, for a variety of reasons, not to ratify that Convention. The current Government is very keen we should actually demonstrate our commitment to international issues concerning health and safety and we should consequently ratify the Convention where possible. We are currently looking at that and we are engaged in discussions with the Department for Employment and Education to see whether that can be achieved.

  513. Do you think that if that were to be implemented it would lead to a lowering in the level of casualisation within the industry and it will improve the health and safety?
  (Mr Henderson) I would have to say that the ratification of the ILO Convention will probably make relatively little difference in the United Kingdom, it is very much an international commitment. I think the important thing internationally is that by giving greater emphasis to health and safety we can actually try and create a level playing field throughout the whole lot. Given that ports and shipping are an international industry that is vitally important. I have to say that our legislation, the Health and Safety at Work Act, the Docks Regulation, which is a mixture of very specific and very generic legislation, we consider to be very comprehensive in enabling us to deal with health and safety issues, although you will be aware that the Government has announced that there is a Safety Bill to come forward that hopefully will increase some of the powers and the penalties which are available to the Health and Safety Executive.

  514. Is it the case that your statistics are broken down to the levels that you would be able to separate the casual labour from the other labour and to discern whether or not the casual labour had higher incidents of accidents?


  515. Can you do that check, Mr Meldrum.
  (Mr Meldrum) Unless they are self-employed the answer is I cannot. What is happening in a lot of cases is that these people are employed by labour agencies, such as Manpower or something like that, so strictly speaking they are employees. Unless they are down as self-employed I cannot distinguish.

  516. Is there any indication in the industry that these agencies declare that their employees are self-employed, although they are employed by an agency. Is that happening?
  (Mr Meldrum) From the accident statistics very few are reported as self-employed.

Mr O'Brien

  517. When there is an accident is it not the port authority who is responsible for treating that accident and making comparative statistics?
  (Mr Meldrum) The duty is on the employer to report that accident. For the self-employed it is the person in control of the premises.

  518. The overall employer is the port authority surely.
  (Mr Meldrum) No, perhaps I did not make myself clear, in a lot of cases the people are actually employed as independent stevedores, they do not work for the port.

Mrs Gorman

  519. I recall when paid sick leave became a statutory requirement the number of people registering across the industry absolutely rocketed, I cannot remember the statistic, I think it was in the 1980s. How many of these three day sicknesses do you monitor to discover whether they are really seriously accident based or whether, perish the thought, some of these people are taking what is called a "sickey", I think?
  (Mr Henderson) The duty to report an accident related to work very much falls on the employer and, therefore, it is up to the employer to determine whether that particular person is off work as a result of an accident or ill- health or work related illness. Clearly we cannot investigate all accidents reported to us. We do actually look at the actual forms and we do some monitoring of those. The fundamental duty is on the employer, if the employer feels that somebody is taking a sickey then clearly they should not report it as an accident and they should pursue the matter in other ways.
  (Mr Starling) You cannot disguise the deaths, major accidents and major injuries.

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