Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520
WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001
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.
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.
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
(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
(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
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
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
(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.
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.
539. Do you think the older ships that are coming
in from the Third World do not pose particular health and safety
(Mr Starling) On the contrary, we think they pose
a lot of health and safety problems.