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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520 - 539)

WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001

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

  520. I am talking about the percentage of your statistics which related to what you call "three day accidents". I would also like to put to you that employers must find these absences, particularly if they are employees, expensive and, therefore, there is a distinct personal interest in employers to see that their employees work safely, because otherwise they will have to carry those people in terms of payment for a long period of time. You are not really trying to imply to us that employers generally are indifferent to the safety of their work force, are you? It did come across rather like that.
  (Mr Starling) We are not making those sort of value judgments, we are just commenting on the fact that this is, as we see it, a dangerous industry. We think that safety and good business go hand-in-hand. From the point you just made, quite clearly accidents, deaths and people off work are expensive and, therefore, there should be no conflict between employers and health and safety regulators in getting these figures down.

Chairman

  521. Could I just ask you, I got the impression that your definition of a three day accident relates to a physical definition rather than where somebody is going to be off work because whatever they have done has damaged a foot or a hand or something like that. Am I putting words in your mouth?
  (Mr Meldrum) I think that is fairly accurate.

  522. It could be a slight accident where you would assume it could be approximately three days before they got back to work?
  (Mr Meldrum) The employer can wait. If it is serious they would report it immediately, in some cases they are required to. For minor accidents they would wait until the employee did not turn up, then the employee would tell them what is wrong and then they notify us. In a lot of cases for minor accidents they know because they went for first aid before the person went home.

  523. What I am trying to get at is, three days to you is a definition of a particular category of accident.
  (Mr Meldrum) It is notified to us as the person being off for more than three days, but the injury description does not make it a major one. There is a specific list.

Mr Bennett

  524. You have not quite convinced me that it is the industry's fault that there are such high accident rates rather than yours. Are you satisfied with the number of inspections you are doing? 300 inspections last year is a pretty small number of random inspections, is it not?
  (Mr Starling) The Health and Safety Executive is not responsible for safety, it regulates safety, it is the industry who are responsible for safety.

  525. Unless you have effective enforcement industry is going to tend to get away with what it can get away with.
  (Mr Starling) There are a range of ways it can be improved, enforcement and inspection is part of that, it is encouraging training, there is research, there is working through other organisations. There are a whole range of ways in which HSE considers that it can affect some industries

  526. Do you not think an inspector going in and talking to people and saying, "That is not satisfactory", or at least suggesting that people should change things is quite effective?
  (Mr Starling) It is indeed effective, but given that you have over 600 ports and you have finite resources, these ports operate all of the year round, the amount of time an inspector can go in and do this sort of thing is bound to be limited.

  527. It looks as though it is about once every 20 years that some of these employers are going to see somebody from the Executive.
  (Mr Meldrum) Perhaps I did not say, there are about 1,100 odd employers in SIC 63220 and we are doing something like 600 visits a year, so I do not think it is once every 20 years.

  528. I thought you were talking about 600, half of which were as a result of accidents or complaints, as opposed to random.
  (Mr Meldrum) Random I think is about 343, I can check the figure for you, out of 1,100, that is something like once every three years to individual employers. If you talk about going to ports, where there are several employers at each port, I suspect the major ports are visited at least once a year.

  529. How many prosecutions were there last year?
  (Mr Meldrum) I can find details of three prosecutions which were heard in the courts last year, that would relate to an earlier year. The figure would be going up next year.

  530. Double, or three to four?
  (Mr Meldrum) I cannot promise, but my impression is it will probably be double.

  531. What sort of conviction rates are you getting? Your prosecution generally is a rather low conviction rate, in ports is it much higher?
  (Mr Meldrum) With respect, I thought our conviction rate was somewhere around 80 per cent to 90 per cent.
  (Mr Henderson) I cannot comment specifically in relation to the docks prosecutions, but overall our convictions—

Chairman

  532. You could let us know.
  (Mr Henderson) Our conviction rate is much higher than that, it is something in the order of about three quarters across all industry. I see no reason why the docks should be any different.

Mr Bennett

  533. Do you think the fines that are imposed are sufficient to discourage other people or are you disappointed, as in a lot of other areas, that the fines are still pretty pathetic considering the damage that people suffer?
  (Mr Starling) I believe that the highest fine under the Health and Safety at Work Act was at a port. I think generally fines are quite low and I believe the Safety Bill is going to address that issue.

  534. What about prevention? Clearly there are the accidents, but there are a fair number of people who work in ports who suffer long-term ill- effects to their health, what are you doing about that?
  (Mr Starling) This is part of our focus, first of all for revitalising, because revitalising is focused in particular on musculoskeletal disorders. There are also other hazards in ports which go across the piece in ill-health, working in noxious environments is one of them, and this is part of our overall revitalising strategy to reduce ill-health in these areas.

  535. How do you measure that?
  (Mr Henderson) As I said we use our statistics.

  536. Your statistics concentrate on accidents, they do not concentrate on the profile of the health of the workers, so you can look and say that as a result of this programme the health of the workers in three years' time or five years' time was better.
  (Mr Henderson) Certainly it is a fair point to say that statistics generally across all of the industry in relation to occupational health are poor. What I will say is that there is actually a fairly high incidence of musculoskeletal type accidents in the docks industry. A lot of those are reported as three days, or sometime worse, accidents. We do have some statistics. Nonetheless, there is certainly the challenge, which I think revitalising imposes, not just to HSE but also to industry to tackle.

  537. Is there a good interface between yourselves and the Maritime Coastguard Agency? You deal with anything on the shore and they deal with anything on the ship; is that right?
  (Mr Starling) There is a good relationship and we would like to improve and enhance it. Again, part of the message of revitalising is working together.

Chairman

  538. They are not altogether known for their flexibility and charm, I would not want to be unkind, are you hoping to find some way of getting over to them that you need this greater degree of liaison?
  (Mr Starling) We have a memorandum of understanding with them and we have regular meetings.

Mr Bennett

  539. Do you think the older ships that are coming in from the Third World do not pose particular health and safety problems?
  (Mr Starling) On the contrary, we think they pose a lot of health and safety problems.


 
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