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CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1344-ii
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Scottish Affairs Committee
Health and Safety in Scotland
Wednesday 6 July 2011
Evidence heard in Public Questions 75 - 177
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Taken before the Scottish Affairs Committee
on Wednesday 6 July 2011
Ian Davidson (Chair)
Mr Alan Reid
Examination of Witness
Witness: Ian Tasker, Assistant Secretary, Scottish Trades Union, gave evidence.
Q75 Chair: Ian, thanks very much for coming along to see us and for participating in this investigation into health and safety in Scotland. Could you just tell us your name and responsibilities at the STUC and is there any brief statement you would like to make at the beginning?
Ian Tasker: I would just like to make a brief statement in relation to our involvement in health and safety. My name is Ian Tasker. I am an assistant secretary with the STUC. My major responsibility for the last 10 years has been health and safety policy for the STUC and we represent the 36 affiliates in the 23 local TUCs. We are quite keen to play a part in this inquiry. I think it has been long overdue, probably stretching back to the early part of the last decade, so we fully welcome the inquiry by the Scottish Affairs Committee.
Q76 Mr Reid: Thanks for coming along, Ian. As you know, the HSE, like all Government Departments, has been undertaking efficiency savings because of the need to reduce expenditure. Do you have any evidence that these savings have impacted upon health and safety in Scotland?
Ian Tasker: We have already seen, in the years between 2004 and 2008, that there was a fall in numbers in relation to the number of health and safety inspectors in Scotland, across all the various operations and directives. At that time there was quite a lot going on and there was a corresponding increase, at times, in the number of injuries. It tends to have been cyclical over the last 10 years. We do not have any direct evidence as yet that cutting inspection numbers will have an impact on the actual injuries, but I think if there is less enforcement there will be fewer prosecutions, and if there are fewer prosecutions there will be fewer deterrents. I think that is where we will see, perhaps, the upturn in the number of serious and perhaps fatal injuries.
Q77 Mr Reid: Have you been able to do any analysis over time that would perhaps show any correlation between the amount of inspections and the number of serious injuries?
Ian Tasker: It is not just inspections. When penalties imposed by the courts were reasonably low as well there were higher rates of injuries, and, thankfully only very recently, we have been seeing substantial, six-figure penalties being imposed on those who fail in their duty of care and fatalities and major injuries occur. It is not just trying to do research in relation to the correlation with lower numbers of inspectors, but it is also whether there is an opposite correlation in the increased penalties acting as a better deterrent for those who put their workers at risk.
Q78 Mr Reid: Have you any evidence that the increased penalties have been a deterrent?
Ian Tasker: It is a view that we share with the TUC and also with the Wider Hazards Movement, who have done work in relation to the number of inspectors in Scotland. That is where we got the figures for the decrease in inspectors, which I do not think I put in my submission. I can supply that separately if you felt that would be useful.
Chair: That would be helpful.
Ian Tasker: I will get that down to you. They have also looked at penalties and, in the TUC’s document that was published very recently in relation to the case for safety, which is challenging the effect the cuts will have on health and safety performance, it is a view that is widely shared by those who campaign for better standards of health and safety in Scotland.
Q79 Mr Reid: The HSE were here last week and they told us that they had absorbed the efficiency savings by a voluntary severance exercise. Are you concerned that the HSE have perhaps lost the most skilled and experienced staff as a result of that exercise?
Ian Tasker: I think that is a concern not just for the HSE. It is a concern of ours in relation to the Environmental Health Officers in Scotland as well. They have a large part to play in enforcing health and safety legislation. It is very difficult to track down the reduction in Environmental Health Officers enforcing health and safety, although REHIS, the professional body, said fairly recently that it had lost about 500 EHOs-Environmental Health Officers-in the last 10 or 15 years. Our concern would be that that will be the same in the HSE. We did not witness the reduction in numbers that we were expecting from the voluntary severance process, but that is perhaps because there was a reduction in numbers in the last few years. That does not mean to say that in years two and three of these planned cuts we will not see a reduction in enforcement and we will lose that experience. It was only about three years ago that there was a recruitment process and these inspectors probably still will not be up to full speed in relation to carrying out their job and advancing prosecutions.
Q80 Mr Reid: How long does it take to train an inspector and get them up to speed?
Ian Tasker: My understanding is that, certainly for the first two years, they do not do any solo inspections. They are very much supervised and I think that carries on. It is a long, protracted process with quite a number of professional qualifications to gain.
Q81 Mr Reid: Where would the STUC like to see the HSE prioritise their resources in order to reduce accidents?
Ian Tasker: It would be silly to disagree with the three priorities that they have set, which are construction, agriculture and waste recycling, because that is where the fatalities are happening at the moment. The two main occupational health conditions that we do not think they are going to be able to prioritise would be the work-related upper limb disorders and stress and mental health.
Q82 Mr Reid: Have you discussed that with them?
Ian Tasker: We are in the process of discussing that with the HSE. It has been raised with the HSE two meetings ago with the Partnership for Health and Safety in Scotland. It was just the case that they are not going to have the resources.
Q83 Mr Reid: Did they think that these should not be priorities?
Ian Tasker: They have concerns in relation to the incidence of these two conditions, and, if they account for over 70% of work-related injuries or absences from work, it should be of concern to a lot of people if they are not seen as a priority or they cannot be seen as a priority because of the lack of resources.
Q84 Mike Freer: Is not one way of plugging the resource gap the cost recovery?
Ian Tasker: Yes.
Q85 Mike Freer: What is the STUC’s view on cost recovery? Is it supportive or not?
Ian Tasker: I think we are reasonably supportive. We have a policy position from a number of years ago that we should look at advancing the Polluter Pays Principle into which cost recovery does fall. If somebody puts their workers’ lives at risk or, even worse, causes a fatality, it should be the case that the HSE should be reimbursed for the work that they put in to prosecute that case, if there is a prosecution, but, if there is not a prosecution, to help or provide the assistance for that workplace to sort its problems out.
Q86 Mike Freer: Do you see the income from cost recovery being on top of baseline budget or do you see it as a move to replacing the baseline budget, thus making budgeting unpredictable?
Ian Tasker: We would be very concerned if it was replacing the baseline budget. It should be as an increase in the baseline budget, perhaps to make up for some of the costs or resources that they have lost as a result of the cuts. That would be the only position that we would be able to support. I do not think we could support it if it was a cut in the headline budgets that was a result of increased cost recovery.
Q87 Chair: Can I clarify whether or not, though, there would not be a danger that the HSE then would pursue cases where it might be easier to recover costs rather than those cases that might be more important in many ways but where it might be more difficult to get the money?
Ian Tasker: There is a danger of that, but I think the HSE would pursue all the cases that they feel were worthy of pursuing. We believe that the HSE have a very professional approach to health and safety enforcement, as do the local authorities. I do not think it would be the case that they saw that as a money-making or income-generating exercise. I think they would continue to have an open mind in relation to prosecutions, because, quite often, it is those who can least afford to pay who are putting workers’ lives at risk.
Q88 Chair: Can I just clarify one other point relating to what Mike said? I did not quite catch or understand the point. You seem to be saying that it would be easier to have charges levied-cost recovery-if there is a prosecution and somebody is found guilty. What would happen if they were prosecuted and not found guilty, or if they were not prosecuted?
Ian Tasker: I did not mean to give that impression. Even if there is a proactive inspection and an inspector goes in and there is quite clearly a serious issue that might not warrant prosecution but requires Health and Safety Executive intervention to prevent a serious injury or further serious injury, then that should fall within cost recovery as well.
Q89 Chair: Are you happy with what is being proposed in the paper Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone?
Ian Tasker: Yes.
Q90 Mike Freer: Could I just clarify? It is not just cost recovery post-prosecution but also on land rectification before development.
Ian Tasker: Yes.
Q91 Mike Freer: You are happy with that as well.
Ian Tasker: Yes.
Q92 Lindsay Roy: Good afternoon, Ian. This is a difficult question to respond to, I think, in terms of data. How effective, in your view, are proactive inspections?
Ian Tasker: I think proactive inspections are beneficial for many employers who welcome the HSE into their workplace. Proactive inspections are maybe not that beneficial when there is a reluctance for the employer to play a part in that process. Proactive inspections, if the work force is involved in them, begin to get the organisation as well as the work force thinking about health and safety and realising it’s not really complicated after all. The major benefit of proactive inspections is that they provide the opportunity to identify failures that could lead to serious injury before that actually happens, but, if welcomed by the employers and welcomed by the work force, they provide a good baseline for people to start getting their health and safety management processes in place.
Q93 Lindsay Roy: It is difficult to quantify how many people have avoided being involved in an accident, but presumably you would have an indication of what steps the business had taken to address the issues that you had raised. Is that right?
Ian Tasker: Yes. Most of the areas that we are organised in are larger workplaces, but we do get health and safety reps feeding back to us when they have had a health and safety inspection exactly what has been suggested by the Health and Safety Executive and also giving us some idea about their involvement in addressing the issues as well.
Q94 Lindsay Roy: It has been suggested that the Government are encouraging the Health and Safety Executive to reduce the number of proactive inspections and to focus on high risk areas. Do you believe that is the right approach?
Ian Tasker: We do not think that is the right approach. We have an issue in relation to what they see as low risk workplaces: schools, offices and retail. We think it is just a different kind of risk in these workplaces. In schools, for instance, stress and mental health is a big problem, as is violence. In shops, work-related upper limb disorders and other physical injuries with lifting are a significant risk. In offices, again, stress is a problem, as are trips and falls. They all have risks, but the chances perhaps of a fatality in some of what have been described as low risk workplaces are fewer.
Q95 Lindsay Roy: Your concern would be a lack of focus on the things that some of your members feel are vitally important.
Ian Tasker: Yes.
Q96 Lindsay Roy: Are you surprised that quarries are in the medium risk category?
Ian Tasker: I would be very surprised if we are including quarries and the open cast coal industry in that. We are surprised that they are in the medium risk category. We do not want perhaps what happened a few years ago when there was an increase in fatalities in the coal industry, which, thankfully, has been sorted out by good enforcement. We would not want to go back to that position. We have to learn from the trends of the past. Our concern would also be in some heavy manufacturing.
Q97 Lindsay Roy: Just very briefly, to follow that up, what influence do you have, as the STUC, on the HSE on the nature of the inspection regime that they pursue? Can you, for example, be in contact with them and say, "We think you need to get into this particular area or a particular business", or whatever?
Ian Tasker: If our affiliates that were organised in a certain sector were raising a significant issue with us, then, initially, it would be something that we would put on the agenda of the Partnership for Health and Safety in Scotland. If we did not like the response from them, then we would be raising it with the directorate.
Q98 Lindsay Roy: What has the Health and Safety Executive response been? Has it been positive? Have they followed it through or do you get 50% or 20% follow- through?
Ian Tasker: I would point to our experience in the ICL tragedy in Maryhill in Scotland. We supported the families there, and at the initial stages it was not positive because we were suggesting that they should be trying to identify similar kinds of workplaces where perhaps the premises were not suitable for the operation being carried out. We would have to accept that they were in the middle of one of the major investigations of a land-based workplace fatality, certainly in Scotland, but, as there were changes at the top in the Health and Safety Executive, they were more receptive to some of the work that we had been doing to raise issues on that.
Q99 Cathy Jamieson: I wanted to follow up particularly on the point I think that Lindsay has already raised in relation to quarrying, but I was also surprised to see that agriculture is proposed as being in the medium risk category, given the number of injuries and, unfortunately, fatalities in that area. Could you say a wee bit about what you think the role, for example, of roving safety reps associated with the trade unions might be to complement the work of the HSE?
Ian Tasker: Agriculture is a serious problem. It always has been a serious problem. I am not convinced that the HSE’s approach, through health and safety awareness days, actually works. They are well attended, but are we getting the right people along to these awareness days? As in all things, even when we go out with the Partnership for Health and Safety in Scotland, it is only people who are interested in health and safety and protecting their workers who turn up. It is not the companies that tend to have the accidents; it is the other ones. Because of that and a lot of lone working in agriculture, I think that should be a very high risk. Previous experiences in relation to lone fatalities-basically, people being found a number of hours after having had an accident-is something that the farming industry has to get its head round in relation to the pain and suffering that that can cause for those who are left behind.
In relation to roving safety reps, we have always supported the position of roving safety reps, as we have in relation to Provisional Improvement Notices. I think they would be strongly resisted by the HSE, but they should recognise that our affiliated trade unions spend a lot of time and money investing in their health and safety reps. They receive an exceptionally high standard of training and they are not, as some employers portray them, going round just causing problems. They are raising serious issues. They negotiate with employers on the reasonable adjustments, so there is a place for them. If we are going to see a reduction in the HSE resources, they have to begin to change that mindset and not just use trade union appointed health and safety reps but perhaps use the representatives of employee safety in their workplaces in a more proactive role.
Over the years, the HSE have become very protective about their enforcement activity. We are not just looking at raising the low level issues but having a direct line into the Health and Safety Executive. When it gets to the stage where a roving safety rep or a safety rep is issuing a Provisional Improvement Notice and it is being ignored, they can raise that directly with the HSE.
Q100 Chair: Can I just clarify about the roving safety reps? I can understand why some employers would be hostile because they would not want anybody coming in, but, in terms of the view of the CBI in Scotland being the over-arching employers’ organisation, are they supportive?
Ian Tasker: They are silent on whether it would be a good thing or a bad thing. Our own understanding would be that they would probably see it as a bad thing and maybe just another piece of bureaucracy that they have to carry out, basically. We have not had that discussion. It may be something in relation to which we should have a discussion, because we believe that we should be able to send a rep into any workplace where there is at least a trade union presence. We have tried in a number of areas to provide non-trade union workplaces with assistance, quite successfully in the voluntary sector through our Worker Safety Adviser Project quite a number of years ago, which is still continuing in one shape or form, funded by the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives. But when we tried to send advisers into private sector SMEs it was resisted. As soon as they saw that the STUC had the trade union badge on the business card, they were very hostile towards it.
Q101 Chair: What can be done to overcome that, or is there a better way of pursuing it?
Ian Tasker: What we have seen in the last two years-and it is building rapidly as we speak-is that we have one large employer, Spirit AeroSystems, based in Prestwick, who received our STUC health and safety award, mainly because of the excellent work they have done in developing their trade union structures. Out of a work force of about 900, they have 18 health and safety reps, including two full time. They have made a lot of difference since they were taken over. It was part of British Aerospace taken over by Spirit. That was not always an easy process. I think there have been difficulties in relation to working time problems and so on, but since they have received the award they have provided access to their workplace to other employers, large and small, and they are bringing them in and explaining how their health and safety system works. They then go out to that employer and have a look round their workplace, and there is this very healthy attitude and relationships building up. Their latest visit is going to be across to Belfast. It is great to see a private sector employer taking that positive attitude towards how they can use the work that they have done to help other organisations. Perhaps, one way or another, you could say that that is a roving safety rep because they are getting access to other workplaces.
Q102 Jim McGovern: Thanks for coming in today, Ian. Last week we heard from the Health and Safety Executive that, generally, workplaces that are trade union organised are safer workplaces than workplaces where there is no trade union. You mentioned earlier on that the STUC has a policy on agriculture. How is such a policy formulated? What is the depth of membership in agriculture?
Ian Tasker: Our health and safety policy has to include all the industries in Scotland, but for Unite, the union that represents agricultural workers, it is always a problem for them to make any inroads into organising in that sector. They have been successful in retaining the Agricultural Wages Board. But when it comes to getting membership, I think we have to look at the employment status in agriculture. It is mainly self-employed. Quite often there has been a drift towards contracting. Instead of directly employing labour, they use contractors, and again they are self-employed so they are not likely to join a union, even with those benefits in relation to better standards of health and safety. It is more down to the employment status that we have problems organising in that sector.
Q103 Jim McGovern: Have you any idea what the sort of percentage depth of membership is in the agricultural sector?
Ian Tasker: If you look at the membership density for the private sector, and various figures are quoted, it is around 20%. I think it would be far less than that in agriculture alone.
Q104 Jim McGovern: Again last week, when we were speaking about health and safety and it was the Health and Safety Executive that was giving evidence, it was suggested that the agricultural sector was probably the worst in terms of accidents, which I was quite surprised about. My background is in the construction industry and I would have thought possibly the construction industry would have been the worst. I would mention what you have referred to there previously, Ian, about the ‘80s, and that is construction workers who on a Friday were employed directly but on the Monday went on a 714 or an SE60, same site, same plant and materials, but they were self-employed. Therefore, a lot of them did not join the union. How does the STUC try and deal with that when they are not trade union members?
Ian Tasker: UCATT, the main construction union, face the same difficulty as agriculture to a certain extent in relation to what they refer to as bogus self-employment, but they appear to be successful in retaining construction workers if they transfer over or whatever. I could maybe try and get some indication from Harry Frew, the Scottish secretary, in relation to the number of SE60s and 714s. He could maybe give us or provide the inquiry with some information in relation to the number of members that they have that are 714s.
Q105 Jim McGovern: With regard to the new regime as regards funding, is it fair to prioritise waste recycling, construction and agriculture?
Ian Tasker: I would question whether it was entirely fair, but, certainly in relation to waste recycling, there are some horrific reports. Part of that is down to the fact that it is an industry that has grown extremely fast. A lot of it is further complicated between perhaps some of that work being outsourced from local authority employers to private sector employers. They always seem to be chasing new contracts and new targets, and sometimes they just push people too hard. There was an incident in Cockpen a number of years ago at a glass recycling plant. Clouds of powder were getting scattered all over the area, and a local went along and saw, basically, what turned out to be a migrant worker driving a forklift with no protective clothing whatever. In agriculture there are a large number of migrant workers, whether it is seasonal work or otherwise. There have been two or three fatalities with berry picking in relation to migrant workers being killed or injured with cloches interfering with electric pylons. There is historical evidence to suggest that they should be receiving attention, but, if you provide certain sectors with more attention than others, then in a few years you will be looking to add another priority to that list and it will be at the expense of one of the existing priorities. It will not be in addition.
Q106 Jim McGovern: Do you think the new funding regime will allow the STUC to proactively inspect as many workplaces as it would like to?
Ian Tasker: We think the number of proactive inspections will fall as a result of HSE inspectors not having the support staff to help them process some of the proactive inspection reports and HSE inspectors having to leave front-line inspection duties to progress prosecutions. As soon as all these resources are taken or pushed towards inspectors, then there will be less time to proactively inspect workplaces.
Q107 Jim McGovern: Finally, a question was put to you earlier on about cost recovery and you mentioned targets. Will this cost recovery approach lead to a situation where proactive inspections will be based on whether you can get cost recovery out of them?
Ian Tasker: I do not think there will be a drive by the HSE to push cost recovery. I do not think they will have the resources to increase the inspections, even if they wanted to use it as a method of generating income. I do not think they will have the resources to go out looking for work, even though it is bringing in income. As I said, they will continue to be quite open-minded and fair about the way that they enforce the health and safety legislation.
Q108 Chair: Could I just follow up one point? You were mentioning recycling and that a lot of these contracts had been obtained because local authorities were contracting stuff out. Does the local authority retain any responsibility for the health and safety of those who are undertaking their work under contract? Could they, if necessary, write that into contracts?
Ian Tasker: We believe that there is some inclusion in procurement contracts in relation to the tenderers’ health and safety management and their policies, but there are potentially opportunities for that to be far more involved and perhaps place more responsibility in a similar way that TUPE provides that protection for employment rights. We would argue that an employment right is the right to expect to come home from work at night. Why shouldn’t the duty of care for workers contracted out from the public sector to the private sector transfer? It does transfer, but it is just the way that a new private sector employer might choose to understand that duty of care.
Q109 Chair: I understand that and that the duty transfers with the contract, so to speak. But in both local authority contracts and agriculture where suppliers to supermarkets, for example, might be made responsible by the supermarkets themselves, have you explored the question of contracts carrying within them stipulations about health and safety which would then become partially the responsibility either of the local authority that passes out the glass-grinding contract or the store that is purchasing berries and so on?
Ian Tasker: Certainly in relation to your last example, that is highly unlikely because we know that the suppliers’ margins to many supermarkets are being squeezed. I cannot see the supermarkets being willing to pay a little bit more to ensure the health and safety of the workers of that supplier. I think there are more opportunities in setting good practice through larger public sector contracts. That would be something that we might want to look at. We have looked at it more from the procurement point of view in saying that, under Scottish Government contracts, they should be ensuring that any tenderer has good health and safety management practices in place and has a good health and safety record prior to putting the tender in. If there was any adverse indication from the HSE prosecutions or notices database that they had a poor health and safety record, then that would be a decision for whoever was procuring the contract to decide if that should preclude them from gaining that contract.
Q110 Chair: I am just trying to be clear. Is that a way forward?
Ian Tasker: We would suggest that is a way forward, yes.
Q111 Chair: Surely, then, the logic is that that is also, potentially, a way forward in the private sector. Yes, it might be resisted for cost reasons and so on, but undoubtedly it is potentially a way forward if no other way forward can be found.
Ian Tasker: Yes. We would agree with that.
Q112 Fiona Bruce: Thank you for coming, Ian. Could you suggest some other methods to reach those who are perhaps hardest to reach, such as those in isolated communities where proactive inspections are difficult to organise?
Ian Tasker: We have gone up to Thurso and Wick to help the voluntary sector organisations up there. It is not isolated, but it hauls in people from isolated communities round about Thurso and Wick. We have a network of health and safety reps all over Scotland, so we should be looking to see if we could come up with something where we could work with the HSE as part of the Partnership for Health and Safety in Scotland to get people into these communities. It would have to be along the roving safety reps method, because, as I said earlier, we need to try to make contact with those who will not go to organised events for one reason or another. It could be a genuine reason-that they are just too isolated. We could look at using the resources that we have as a trade union movement to see if the HSE could find a use for them.
Q113 Fiona Bruce: What about the self-employed? How do we overcome this barrier of fear that so many self-employed people have whenever health and safety is mentioned, when in fact greater awareness on their part is in their own self-interest?
Ian Tasker: If we had an answer to that one, we would probably be in a better place. It is a process of trying to get the economic arguments across. Even for the self-employed, if they have a serious accident, perhaps they might have health insurance-I would suggest that a lot of the micro-organisations and the self-employed do not have that kind of insurance-but if not they will be in trouble financially. So there are economic arguments to get people starting to think about the benefits of insuring their health and safety as a self-employed worker.
There is also the argument that you should not think, whether you are a self-employed window cleaner or whatever, that you are not going to have an accident. You should start to think that whatever you are doing as part of your work is likely not only to put your own life in danger but also the future of your family if anything does happen. There are strong emotional arguments as well. People have to start thinking and not be complacent, and they should not listen to or read some of the reports in the paper about health and safety gone mad and all that sort of stuff, because that is more public safety than workplace health and safety. I think the two have got a little bit confused.
Q114 Fiona Bruce: So, really, it is about trying to change the culture, but we have to communicate with people to do so, and that is the challenge in certain cases, is it not?
Ian Tasker: It is. We are keen to look at young workers because young workers are more likely to be injured or made ill by their work. It is not because they are careless; it tends to be because they are new to the workplace. But we are keen to look at how our Youth Committee can use some of the new social networking opportunities to start to get them to think that health and safety is not boring. It is necessary. It will not put their health and safety at risk. British Columbia has fantastic websites. Certainly the one that came to my attention was the one on young workers, but I believe they are now doing the same for women- targeting information at certain groups of the population. That is something that we could look at, but again it is a question of resources. The HSE website has pages for young workers, but it is not done in the imaginative way that the British Columbians have done it.
Q115 Fiona Bruce: That is something you would say needs to be looked at.
Ian Tasker: Yes.
Q116 Fiona Bruce: Finally, some people might say that there are certain occupations which are considered as macho, perhaps, where injury is part of the job. What is the STUC doing to get through to such cultures so that we can improve the collection of data on health and safety and reporting generally?
Ian Tasker: One of the areas that we have talked about extensively is construction. That seems to be the one that is considered to be more macho than perhaps some of the others, and it tends to be that a lot of them are self-employed one way or another. If they do not work, they do not get paid. That is maybe where the tag of "macho" comes, but they are still getting injured at work. They are just going to work. They are still being made ill by their work or they are going to work ill-presenteeism. We are trying to get across that we need to improve reporting levels because you can learn so much from reporting levels, but we also need to look at how we encourage employers to take reports of near misses from their workers, because near misses are even better ways of identifying what is going wrong in the workplace because they are before the injury.
I also noticed that there was a question asked of the HSE last week in relation to using casualty departments to gather information on reporting. That is something we discussed with Glasgow university a number of years ago, probably, sadly, about eight or nine years ago. Again, that was something that did not get the support of the HSE in Scotland at the time. Dr Jane Wilford from Glasgow university did substantial work on that. Our own affiliates are telling us that that is where the major injuries go. Whether they are taken there by ambulance or whether they are sitting in the A&E department, that is where they get treated. These are perhaps the ones that are not reporting because they have to wait in the casualty department and the employer probably does not fill in the accident form for them to agree it when they come back. I think there are better ways of ensuring that reporting levels go up.
Q117 Chair: Can I just clarify that, though? You mentioned a couple of times about the partnership structures that you have. Surely, they have identified this under-reporting and the possibility of picking up better statistics by the use of A&E figures already. Why has it not been progressed?
Ian Tasker: The Partnership for Health and Safety in Scotland was working well. We were looking at things and we did have a presentation from the Inspector for Quarries in relation to the open cast coal investigations that he had been carrying out. The whole meeting was about discussing issues. We are now going out on the road and doing more topic-based presentations for local businesses, along with a shorter meeting. We are probably going to suffer as a result of that, but that is being driven by the resources that the HSE have as well.
Q118 Chair: I was raising the question of why one of the partners, the health service, in this partnership had not been either asked for or had not then produced figures from staff in A&E that corresponded to accidents at work. You were saying that you did not have these statistics. It would seem that you have a channel there by which they could have been obtained.
Ian Tasker: It is something we probably have to look at in relation to making sure that we go out, as part of the Partnership for Health and Safety in Scotland, and say we need to work on. That was just one way of ensuring that we increase the amount of accidents being reported, but, again, it is about raising awareness in the work force. They can ensure that their employers report an accident as well.
Q119 Chair: Absolutely. I understand that, but I think it is the same as the question of stab wounds and so on. The figures that come in via hospitals where they have been collected, collated and produced are widely at variance with the figures reported to the police. It seems to me that, if they have those figures for stab wounds, they also ought to have them for industrial accidents. What I am not clear about is why that has not already been done.
Ian Tasker: I am not aware of why it has not been done, but it is certainly something I would want to progress. In Scotland, we have the advantage that we can maybe look at doing things in a different way that encourages other areas in other countries to take it on board as well.
Chair: That is something we can certainly pick up because we will no doubt be speaking to the Scottish Executive at some point to pursue these matters.
Q120 Jim McGovern: Last week we heard from the HSE their justification or explanation for why work-related road traffic accidents are not included in RIDDOR. Does the STUC have a view on that?
Ian Tasker: We have a view that they certainly should be. RoSPA suggested that there could be 1,000 work-related road accidents a year, and if you use a 10% rule of thumb, which I would tend to agree might be underestimating the amount applicable to Scotland because of our geography, they should be included in RIDDOR, as should work-related stress. It is only if you have a direct link to the workplace that you can even try to report that. I would agree. It just seems absolutely strange to me that somebody who is put under pressure, perhaps, to get a delivery from A to B in a certain timescale, who has a slight lapse of attention and ends up causing an accident where they or a member of the public might either be injured or killed, is not investigated in the same way as other workplace accidents.
Q121 Jim McGovern: I made the point last week that I participate in the Police Parliamentary Scheme and, as part of that scheme, I accompanied traffic police for a day. They made it clear to me that they no longer refer to road traffic accidents, but to road traffic incidents, because "accident" implies that it was just an act of God and could not be helped, whereas in the vast majority of cases it could have been avoided. Would you agree? I gave an example last week. I was involved in a road traffic incident when I was a glazier and the person who was driving the van was very badly injured by the glass that came forward. Thankfully, I got out unscathed. The HSE last week seemed to be saying that is not a work- related accident.
Ian Tasker: We have been using that expression for a number of years now. It is not work-related accidents; it is incidents. The HSE themselves suggest that anything between 75% and 90% of accidents are easily preventable. That backs up the view that the police were taking that, if they are that easily prevented, they are not accidents. Accidents should be something that there is very little chance of you avoiding. The majority of workplace injuries could have been prevented, including the one that I referred to earlier, the ICL tragedy.
Q122 Lindsay Roy: Just to come back to a point you made earlier, how effective do you feel the HSE are in evaluating the success of their operations and, indeed, how do you evaluate how successful they have been?
Ian Tasker: We probably evaluate our success by the number of prosecutions that are being taken-not our success, but our activity-which is probably not the best thing to do because they are quite obviously falling. It has to be said that, when organisations are engaging with the HSE, the feedback that we get does tend to be favourable in relation to their interventions. Probably the fairest evaluation of their activity would be the trend of accident statistics. It is worth saying that even over the last 10 years the major ones have remained relatively flat, whereas the "over three day" injuries have fallen, and again there is a very welcome reduction in fatal injuries this year. But it is whether that is going to be sustainable.
Q123 Lindsay Roy: That is the one you have accurate information on, though.
Ian Tasker: Yes.
Q124 Lindsay Roy: For the other ones the data is very obscure.
Ian Tasker: Yes, because of potential under-reporting.
Q125 Lindsay Roy: Do you know how the Health and Safety Executive gauges success? Do you know what criteria they use? For example, are they saying, "We visited certain places and here are the actions that have been taken following visits"? In other words, they have feedback on steps taken to address issues that have been raised.
Ian Tasker: The HSE would measure their performance against the enforcement strategy that is decided by the HSE board. Obviously, the TUC are represented on the HSE board. We would support a work plan, certainly in Scotland, that could be measurable because that does not seem to be what is in place at the moment.
Q126 Lindsay Roy: How rigorous is the follow-up if there is an issue identified by the Health and Safety Executive? Are you aware how rigorously it is followed up and whether remedial action is taken or not?
Ian Tasker: Following the ICL tragedy, they are more rigorously followed up now because that was a major failing in that tragedy. Follow-up inspections should have taken place that had not taken place. That is something that they have put in place following that tragedy.
Q127 Lindsay Roy: Have you been pressing them to do so?
Ian Tasker: We have obviously pressed them to do so as part of our support for the families up to and during the public inquiry. We facilitated meetings between the chair of the HSE board and the previous Minister for Work as well, and they outlined a number of changes they have made, specifically in relation to follow-up visits, from which the families took a small measure of comfort.
Q128 Lindsay Roy: You, as an organisation, recognise good practice. We saw that at the STUC conference. Does the Health and Safety Executive distribute examples of good practice?
Ian Tasker: Yes; they do have examples of good practice on their website. There has been a move towards the use of videos and things like that which does get the message across far more than just a web page of information. There have been examples of good practice promoted by the HSE, but again they tend to be larger, often trade unionised workplaces, so it is no shock that they are examples of good practice.
Q129 Lindsay Roy: Do videos change culture?
Ian Tasker: It needs a change of culture but perhaps they are a support in doing that. Perhaps we could get the HSE to assist us in developing the kind of approach that Spirit AeroSystems have taken in other communities throughout Scotland, getting a major employer to take the lead along with a trade union, to get people to come in and see how they do it and just find out that it is not complicated; it is common sense.
Q130 Chair: You mentioned a couple of times things that maybe lead us to believe that your relationship with the HSE is not quite the best. You were suggesting maybe that you could persuade the HSE to work more closely with you. How is your relationship with the HSE?
Ian Tasker: We have quite a positive relationship with the HSE. We need to encourage them, perhaps, to accept the role. It goes back to the point I made about accepting the role. There is a resource out there in relation to trade union health and safety reps of which they are perhaps not taking advantage. We talked in the last question about the change of culture. I think there is a change of culture perhaps needed in the HSE in relation to how they use the resources that are out there without jeopardising their role as the enforcer. It is about a change of culture in all the various stakeholders.
Q131 Chair: You mentioned earlier on about meeting them at the Partnership. Is that the only forum in which you meet them or do you have regular one-on-one meetings?
Ian Tasker: No. Bernard Warden is the contact, the Principal Inspector who has responsibility for working with the STUC. It has not been as regular as perhaps in hindsight we would have hoped, but again these things are all going to be or have been impacted by the resources issue. If you go into an HSE office now, certainly in Glasgow, it is all hot-desking. It is not the environment it used to be before. We are concerned going forward about the impact these changes will have, not just on morale but perhaps on their own work force in relation to their health and safety. We need to look at them as an employer as well as an organisation that enforces health and safety.
Q132 Chair: Can I just be clear again? Lindsay’s point was in relation to the effectiveness and how you assess that when you evaluate their interventions. In a number of the points you have been making to us, potentially there is confusion by the HSE and those assessing them between activity and achievement. For example, in dealing with farmers or the self-employed, they can be doing things, but that is not necessarily guaranteeing that they are reaching the farmers or the self-employed that they would want to reach. I am just not clear whether or not you think that the evaluation is sufficiently effective in terms of assessing not just the activity but the results of what they are doing.
Ian Tasker: I would go back to the safety and health awareness days-the SHADs, as they call them-that they organise. I would imagine it would be near impossible to get an evaluation of how successful they have been other than getting information across to an invited audience. Perhaps an evaluation would be to try and assess how many people are not turning up to these things and not taking that advice. Then they should be subject to the enforcement activity. That was my understanding. There was a carrot effect, basically. They came along to reduce their chances of being subject to enforcement.
Q133 Chair: Presumably, ultimately, there is proof in terms of the results. If they have events and the accident statistics drop, then they are working. If they do not, they are not. Has there been any clear correlation between activity by the HSE in areas like the self-employed and accidents falling or not?
Ian Tasker: I have not seen any statistics, certainly in relation to the example I used, that accidents and injuries are going down in the agricultural sector as a result of these interventions.
Q134 Lindsay Roy: If there is one thing you could change about the HSE, what would it be? If you could influence them in a particular way, what change would you like to see?
Ian Tasker: It would be to look at the other sources of help that are out there in relation to getting interventions. We have had a position in relation to roving safety reps for a long time and it has been ignored for a long time. We have had a position in relation to the use that could be made and the benefits of Provisional Improvement Notices, which are not about stopping a job unless it is extremely serious. Our health and safety reps are highly qualified, as I said. They would not be stopping a job. They would be trying to sort the problem out before it got to that stage. Again, the one thing that we might want to change is that the HSE should perhaps be more willing to engage with other people with the same aims at heart, which is to improve the health and safety of the workers in Scotland.
Q135 Lindsay Roy: And give more credibility to their sources of information. Is that really what you are saying?
Ian Tasker: Yes.
Q136 Cathy Jamieson: I wanted to focus just a wee bit on the so-called health and safety anomaly, which is really the reason why this Committee decided to focus on this inquiry in the first place. The HSE explained the higher number of incidents of major injuries in Scotland compared to the rest of Great Britain. They used construction as an example for that by saying that a high proportion of the Scottish construction work force does high risk jobs, whereas the construction sector in England includes more low risk jobs because most headquarters are based in England. I had some concerns about that interpretation. Do you agree that that is an explanation of why we apparently have a poorer health and safety record in Scotland?
Ian Tasker: As I said earlier, it is over 10 years since that original suggestion was put forward by Charles Woolfson and Matthias Beck. It is probably disappointing that it has taken this long for the HSE to be pushed into coming along and explaining that position. I cannot see how they can say that. Just because there are more clerical jobs, I do not see how they could be saying that. That would apply to every industry, not just construction. It will be something I will be asking them to go into in more detail, because the HSE just would not accept that report in the early days. They went out and did their own piece of research. What struck me, when this Committee went to the National Audit Office and got that report, was that there was very little difference in the figures in the 13-year period-because it was 1997-98 that Woolfson and Beck used. For major injuries, I think the gap had closed a wee bit, but that is because the major injuries in England and Wales had gone up. I found it a bit strange that there had not been any movement in the Scottish figures.
Q137 Cathy Jamieson: One of the things that Woolfson and Beck picked up-and you have referred to this in your written evidence-is whether one of the reasons for the disparity in the fatal and major injury rates could be that workers, perhaps in socially deprived areas, tend to take jobs or stay in jobs which are perhaps more dangerous or where the conditions are not as good, simply because of the economic circumstances. Again, in the current difficult times, that would be a major concern. Do you have any evidence that that is still an issue or are you aware of any ongoing research, or is that something that needs to be looked at afresh?
Ian Tasker: In the very early days when we were looking at corporate homicide legislation, we filmed a video for a special session at Congress on corporate homicide and we used a young woman from Kilwinning whose husband had been killed in a workplace tragedy in Glasgow. It was quite clear there had been severe failures, very little health and safety management and very little protection for her husband. She came out and said that it was the only job he could get and he did not want to give it up. I was getting the same story when we met the families and the workers in ICL. They were from deprived areas; it was a job and they did not know where they could get another job if they lost that one or moved voluntarily. Those are the two examples I have. In deprived areas, if you are lucky enough to get a job, it is probably something you want to hold on to, to protect your family and protect the income of your family. It would be a concern if unscrupulous employers, knowing that they have that commitment from their workers but for the wrong reasons, use that to put their lives at risk.
Q138 Mr Reid: You mentioned earlier that prosecutions had fallen. Do you have any evidence as to whether that is because there are fewer serious incidents or because the HSE is not putting the work in to develop the prosecution case?
Ian Tasker: It is probably a reduction in proactive inspections because not all prosecutions result from an accident. A number arise from proactive prosecutions. That is the only reason I would suggest. Because there are fewer inspections, there are fewer prosecutions coming forward. I think it will still be the case that they will prosecute accidents.
Q139 Mr Reid: Is that major injuries?
Ian Tasker: They will prosecute incidents that arise from a workplace injury, if that deserves prosecution.
Q140 Mr Reid: Has there been a marked reduction then in proactive, preventative work in recent years?
Ian Tasker: I think there has, and again I could probably get figures for the Committee in relation to that from Hazards. But certainly we have anecdotal evidence from our health and safety reps that some of them have never seen an inspector in the workplace. Hugh Robertson from the TUC suggested at one point-before the cuts-that, given the amount of HSE inspectors there are and the number of workplaces for which they have responsibility, it may well be that a workplace does not get inspected more than once every 38 years. It was a very rough calculation, but that seems to be going up from some of the figures that were quoted by UNISON in their "Safety Last?" research that they commissioned from the Centre for Corporate Accountability.
Q141 Mr Reid: The HSE told us last week that they were going to concentrate on the sectors where injuries were more likely, and that in the less dangerous areas they would be doing fewer inspections. Do you think that is a sensible approach?
Ian Tasker: It depends. I noticed the evidence from the HSE tended to look at physical injury as opposed to occupational health problems. It is right that they investigate and inspect the risks of physical injury, but they have an excellent tool in relation to their stress management standards. With the cuts in resources, there will be less and less going in and checking that organisations are using that tool. Denmark brought in stress management standards around the same time as the HSE and they have made sure that they have implemented them in over 4,000 workplaces. I think it is a matter of a few hundred in the UK. I can maybe try and get these stats as well.
Mr Reid: That would be useful, yes.
Q142 Jim McGovern: On this same subject of prosecutions, do you think the STUC would be in favour of a scheme similar to the Pension Protection Fund where, if a company goes bust, the pension scheme members still have some sort of recompense via the pension? Do you think that the STUC would support a similar scheme where there has been, for example, a fatal accident and the employer then declares himself bankrupt and more or less cops out of paying any compensation? The reason I ask is that, in my constituency some years ago, a constituent of mine was killed on a building site. The gate of a hoist came off, hit him on the head and he was killed instantly. His wife and his family were awarded £250,000 compensation, but the company declared themselves bust and the family has never received a penny. Do you think the STUC would support some sort of scheme where the Government would pay the compensation if the firm was legally and genuinely bankrupt?
Ian Tasker: We would definitely support such a scheme, but we might want to look at how we ensure that, in all cases but especially where there is a fatality involved, the surviving family get their compensation quicker, because it is in the months just after the death that they need that financial support. So, yes, definitely, there would be support for a scheme that protects the right to compensation. If the employer goes bust, I would imagine they are still insured up until the time they actually close the business, and if the fatality has happened before the close of business I think the insurance company should be paying the compensation. There are opportunities to investigate that, but also how we can ensure that people get access to their compensation quicker, rather than waiting three or four years for a court case and then the insurance to pay out.
Q143 Jim McGovern: Perhaps I should just add for information that the person who was the employer is still living in a mansion and all his business and properties are now in his wife’s name.
Ian Tasker: That is not acceptable to the STUC, but we know of a number of cases where the courts, not just in Scotland but throughout the rest of the UK, have imposed appalling levels of fines for fatal accidents, including £1, because the company had done just that. They had put themselves into liquidation to avoid paying a large fine.
Chair: We do not normally ask questions of other Committee members, but should this point about insurance not have covered the issue involved?
Jim McGovern: Chair, all I can say is the wife of the person who was killed-I am quite happy to give her name: Karen Stupart-has not received a penny in compensation.
Chair: I am being advised to be careful naming names.
Jim McGovern: I put this question at PMQs to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and named the person. It was not ruled out of order at the time, so I do not know if I am going to be ruled out of order here.
Q144 Chair: This is a very useful example and it would be helpful if we could get some more information on this particular point, because I think it is absolutely key. We want to pick up this question of some sort of compensation fund in the event that the employer does such and such. Maybe we could flush this out because I have already indicated to one of the staff that we want to have this as a case study in any report we produce. If we could get further information from the relevant union and yourselves, we can always at some stage take evidence from the Association of British Insurers if we find, as a result of various hearings, that there is an issue here. In terms of insurance in general, just to pursue this particular line, do you think there are a number of cases where insurance payments have been unduly delayed, insurance companies have been unco-operative or people have gone bust in order to avoid their responsibilities?
Ian Tasker: Certainly in relation to the case that was discussed, this would be a concern of ours. Many organisations are perhaps operating without insurance, which is not unknown in the black economy, but the legal process takes so long and insurers will not pay out until after the legal process in case it is seen as an admission of liability.
Q145 Fiona O'Donnell: Carrying on the theme of compensation, would you be concerned that quicker compensation and understanding the urgency with a fatality might mean less money for families? Would you see maybe an interim payment until there was a full settlement?
Ian Tasker: There are mechanisms in place to make interim payments. They are not excessive interim payments. It is a case of victims’ families having to go cap in hand, basically, through their lawyers to get the insurance company to agree to pay a sum, whether it is for Christmas presents or whatever. I think that must be quite demeaning, given all that they have been through and they are struggling anyway, but perhaps the insurance industry could be encouraged to pay higher levels of interim payments on the guarantee, obviously, that the final payment reduces by that amount.
Q146 Chair: You have not given us any information about that general area. If you have anything, it would be helpful if you passed it on to us and encourage any of your affiliates to give us that because, if that is an issue of some concern, we might very well ask the Association of British Insurers to come and meet us to discuss specifically these points and matters related to them, if that is acceptable to you and if you would be able to do that.
Ian Tasker: I would have to go back to the families. It did relate to those who lost people in the ICL incident. Two of them stayed very close to me. I might just need a little bit of time to get that together.
Chair: Rather than just simply doing it on the basis of anecdotes about particular cases, I do not know if there has been any work done, as it were, across the board by trade union lawyers or anyone similar who would be able to give us something that showed that this is a widespread pattern of behaviour rather than just simply an aberrant one.
Q147 Fiona O'Donnell: I was going to suggest, Chair, that perhaps a company like Thompsons Solicitors or the Law Society could come in. On the same point, I wanted to ask about subcontracting. On one construction site you can have three or four subcontractors. The experience I have is of someone who waited 10 years for their compensation for an accident. The reason the lawyer gave was that there were so many subcontractors involved and they needed to work out who was liable for what proportion of the compensation. Is this a growing problem?
Ian Tasker: It would be in the construction industry where there is a large, main contractor, certainly in significant builds where a number of subcontractors is coming in, not all the time but maybe dipping in and out, doing certain bits of work.
Fiona O'Donnell: Scaffolding.
Ian Tasker : It could make it hard for lawyers to pinpoint who is to blame for what proportion of that accident.
Q148 Fiona O'Donnell: Finally, do the STUC have lists of legal firms they recommend to their members?
Ian Tasker: We do not recommend but we do highlight. If somebody phones us-a non-union member, for instance-we would identify where they could perhaps get assistance. I know that Thompsons do provide a service for non-union members on the basis that they are going to try and encourage them by saying, "If you had been a union member, you would have got that whole amount of compensation." There are more and more trade union law firms looking at that kind of support as well.
Q149 Cathy Jamieson: Just to continue on some of the issues on the HSE and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland, I note that your written evidence suggests that there has been an improvement in the relationship between HSE and COPFS from your point of view since the formation of the specialist health and safety division back in 2008. Has that better relationship led to quicker action, particularly in fatal accident cases coming to conclusions, or are there still unnecessary delays, as you would see it?
Ian Tasker: I am not convinced there is evidence there yet that it is leading to quicker prosecutions. One significant advantage of the new system is that there is better liaison, not just between the HSE and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, but more importantly perhaps with the families. The HSE have always been very good at liaison with the families in the early part of any accident investigation, but, once their investigation is concluded and the report is handed to the Procurator Fiscal Service, there is often no communication with the families until it gets very near to the court hearing. Again, these are cases from Ayrshire. They do have a victim information adviser based in that division. At last year’s International Workers’ Memorial Day, I met a woman who had lost her partner and she was very impressed with the way that person had engaged with her between the HSE concluding their investigation and the subsequent consideration by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service if there was going to be a prosecution. That is one positive point arising out of that, but I am going to go back and arrange to meet Elaine Taylor and find out if they can provide evidence that we are getting cases to court quicker.
Q150 Cathy Jamieson: Another issue I just wanted to raise briefly is that, in evidence from the RMT, there seemed to be a suggestion that they believe, in particular for the offshore sector, that people would be better served if the English approach was used and the prosecutions were done directly by the HSE. I am not suggesting that you would be able to comment on the views of an individual union; that is obviously their view. But could you perhaps see why or have you any views on why they might be saying that?
Ian Tasker: It could be perhaps that they feel that might result in quicker prosecutions, but there was a time in the past when the HSE did prosecute in Scotland. It would be good to see if we could get information from the HSE in relation to whether, in the days when they were prosecuting, it was faster and more efficient. It is over 20 years since they last prosecuted a case in Scotland. Since the formation of the new division, I would probably see advantages of continuing along that line, given the cuts in HSE resources, because it would involve more resources to take the prosecution to court. It is something that perhaps the inquiry might want to refer back to the HSE and find out if that was the case.
Q151 Cathy Jamieson: Could I ask this in relation to an issue about the courts? Obviously, not all injuries are really serious injuries, thankfully, or fatalities, but there are other, less serious injuries, although they will not be any less serious for the people sustaining them. There has been criticism in the past that the courts in Scotland do not deal with those particularly well. What changes, if any, would you like to see to that process in order that in situations like Fiona describes, people can get compensation and the whole thing tied up more quickly?
Ian Tasker: One thing we have discussed with our lawyers is whether it would be possible to do what the Marine Accident Investigation Board does and issue a report very shortly after the tragedy has happened. That does not appear to have any impact on or prejudice the outcome of a court case. We see advantages of carrying out an inquiry in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, meaning that lessons can be learned faster and perhaps things can be put in place quicker to ensure that that kind of accident could be prevented.
Again, going back to ICL, it was five years-practically until the public inquiry came out-before the HSE could commit to a full inspection of LPG installations, and in between that there was a similar explosion in a hotel up in Auchenblae. Could that have been prevented by earlier interventions by the HSE in relation to LPG installations? I have seen presentations from the Principal Inspector who is in charge of the LPG Gas Programme in Scotland, and it is quite clear that many employers have not heard about the LPG Installations Inspection Programme and why they are doing it, because there is still a lot of poor practice out there.
Q152 Cathy Jamieson: If there have been any improvements in getting things into court, is there any evidence that the fines or the penalties that the courts are imposing are now increasing?
Ian Tasker: Just this week there has been a £650,000 fine imposed on two employers: £50,000 on one party and £600,000 on the other. That is probably the most significant fine for a smaller organisation that we have seen. It is more common now than in the past for a penalty imposed following a fatality to be into six figures. That was never the case even a few years ago.
Q153 Chair: That is obviously very much to be welcomed.
Ian Tasker: Yes.
Q154 Chair: In terms of the fine imposed by the court, that goes back into the Scottish court system and disappears into the black hole that is Holyrood.
Ian Tasker: I think it goes to the Exchequer, does it not, or to the Treasury?
Q155 Chair: None of that goes back to the HSE in any way.
Ian Tasker: No. There is another difference in relation to the way it works in England and Wales in that the HSE does not get an award of costs in Scotland. Basically, the £2 million or whatever they paid for the ICL investigation had to be met out of their own resources.
Q156 Chair: Had that been in England, it would have been paid for by whom?
Ian Tasker: In addition to the financial penalty, a court can make an award of costs that the guilty party has to pay as well.
Q157 Chair: Why is the situation different in Scotland? Is that a general issue of Scottish law?
Ian Tasker: It appears to be. They would have to look at how quick and how easy it would be to change that. Just on penalties, there is something that is supposed to be getting progressed, although I have not seen the results of it yet. In England and Wales, they carry out a full examination of the financial affairs of the company before the financial penalty is imposed. In Scotland, they do not. The judge takes the information from the defendant’s lawyers, and that is what happened at the ICL hearing. The defendant’s lawyers, on the day of the guilty plea being put in, passed over their financial information.
Q158 Chair: Sorry? Run that past me again. In England, what would have happened? Somebody objective would have looked at that.
Ian Tasker: Yes. It is like a court-appointed auditor who looks at the finances of the company and then provides a report to the court in relation to the financial standing of them to pay a fine.
Q159 Chair: Am I right in thinking then, from the point of view of enforcement, that that is two particular cases where it would be helpful if Scots law was changed to be in line with that pertaining in England and Wales?
Ian Tasker: I would suggest, yes, it could provide some support to the HSE in relation to having costs awarded to them.
Q160 Chair: In terms of recommendations that we might make, some will obviously be the UK Government, but clearly if we come across things that are devolved responsibilities then there is no reason why we do not make a recommendation to the Scottish Executive or the Scottish Government as well.
Ian Tasker: We would obviously be keen, as a trade union movement, to be supporting that these recommendations that the Committee might make, in relation to devolved issues, are progressed by the Scottish Government.
Q161 Fiona O'Donnell: Given this emphasis now and the concentration of resources on high risk sectors, would you favour a further reduction of inspections in low risk sectors and transferring more of that responsibility to local authorities?
Ian Tasker: I am not convinced that the local authorities have the resources to take on any other work because they have other competing priorities as well in relation to enforcement. It has been the case that at certain times the HSE and the local authorities have looked at the division of their responsibilities and changed them about, but I am not convinced there are the resources out there between the two organisations to allow that to happen. Certainly in relation to retail and offices, which are two of the low risk workplaces that have been identified, they are already enforced mainly by local authorities.
Q162 Fiona O'Donnell: And those were?
Ian Tasker: Retail, shops and offices.
Q163 Fiona O'Donnell: When Alan was talking about prevention of accidents and you were talking in a positive way about occupational health and also work-related stress, the care sector is an area where we do not get an accident that makes the headlines or a fatality, but we get predominantly women, due to wear and tear over the years, being profoundly debilitated as a result of their employment. I am not just talking about social care but health settings. With the move increasingly in social care to domiciliary care, how do we protect that work force?
Ian Tasker: We touched on it earlier. It is a drift from public sector provision to private sector provision. Certainly in relation to domiciliary care, that has been happening in local authorities in Scotland. I know because one of my neighbours has just started as a care worker with no experience in the care industry. She has had about four days’ training, which did include manual handling. The issue is how we ensure that that training is developed because it is not something that you learn in four days-it depends on the weight of the person that you are trying to move, for example. It is a concern, but, again, the difficulty we face is that the private care sector is not a highly trade unionised sector in the same way as the local authorities are. It is a challenge to ensure that affiliates are trying to organise these workers or ensure that they retain their union membership if they are transferred out of local authority employment.
Q164 Fiona O'Donnell: It is also that you are taking that training then into different environments. Moving around a bathroom can be difficult. With local authorities cutting time, often as they are in my own, when you only have 15 minutes to spend on their personal care, you can understand staff trying to cut corners. Do you think it would be fair to say that women are being disproportionately affected by this change in regime and emphasis? Do you think it may be that women get less attention?
Ian Tasker: I think they have been disproportionately affected over a number of years. It is not just with the recent changes, because it is quite clear that even with the introduction of hoists, sometimes there are not enough to go around and often they are not functioning properly. I know a number of individuals who have been injured in the way you have described. They are very debilitated by something that could have been quite easily prevented. Yes, I think women are disproportionately affected by the drift towards private sector provision and going into different people’s houses. I am not convinced that off-site training really prepares people for going out into that kind of working environment.
Q165 Fiona O'Donnell: Are you getting any evidence as well-I am sure it is something we are all picking up on-of longer waits for people for adaptations in their homes, someone waiting six months or a year for a wet room, and in the meantime a care worker is trying to give that person the personal care they need in an unsafe environment?
Ian Tasker: It is something we would probably have to try and refer to the health service branch of UNISON, for instance, to find out if that is the case. Certainly in relation to the work that we are doing with our Disabled Workers’ Committee, there is a drift towards making it more difficult for people to get adjustments in order for them to maintain their independent living. That is a piece of work we are taking forward with a number of other disabled organisations in Scotland. Perhaps it is early days yet, but that is something that we could try and get some more information on.
Q166 Fiona O'Donnell: Finally, thank you for bringing to our attention the British Columbian example. It may be that is something the Committee should take a look at, particularly as the targeting of health and safety campaigns at the old or sick is a recommendation that does not require too much expenditure from the Government.
Ian Tasker: I can send you the link to that website as well.
Q167 Chair: That would be helpful. Could I start pulling things together and just ask one or two other points? In terms of your relationship with COSLA and local authorities, given their responsibilities for health and safety matters, is that a good one?
Ian Tasker: We have a relationship with COSLA on a number of issues. It tends to be more the general secretary and the deputy general secretary who are involved in these engagements, but it is not something that we have raised the issue of so far.
Q168 Chair: It is not a problem.
Ian Tasker: It is something that perhaps we should be doing.
Q169 Chair: In terms of the Partnership arrangements in Scotland, again maybe you could just clarify for us whether or not you are satisfied with the way in which they are working and the way in which these issues are being driven forward. Could you tell us whether or not there is any major deficiency in the attendance, the structures or anything relating to that that would be helpful to us?
Ian Tasker: We do have the right people sitting round the table, the business organisations, trade union organisations and the Scottish Government. One of the things arising out of this inquiry would be that we would be looking for discussions at that Partnership on how we take some of these recommendations forward. In the way that it has changed following the recent restructure, I do not see it being set up to handle that kind of work. It might have been before when we were not going out and doing presentations to businesses. I think the emphasis has changed from looking at specific issues in relation to the Health and Safety Executive in Scotland and in specific sectors spending a morning doing that. We are now half and half, and it is presentations. We need to look at perhaps going back to the format we had before. It is something I think we plan to discuss with the chair.
Q170 Chair: Do you have the opportunities to raise these issues with them internally with a degree of confidence that your views will be listened to?
Ian Tasker: Yes.
Q171 Chair: There is nothing that we ought to be concerned about with any of that.
Ian Tasker: No. We need to ensure that it can deliver what we want it to deliver, going forward, if we are going to be making a drive to identify if the Scottish anomaly still exists and what the reasons behind it are. That would increase the focus of the Partnership on Health and Safety in Scotland and I think that would be a welcome move. It is important that this issue is investigated properly and recommendations come out that we can take forward. That is going to involve an additional resource and it is not just an additional resource to the HSE; it is an additional resource to all the partners sitting round the table as well. It would be worth that extra effort to look at how we can do things differently in Scotland.
Q172 Jim McGovern: It is not so much a question as an observation of mine. I would appreciate your comments. For me, it would be ironic if the local authorities were allowed to monitor health and safety. I have worked in the private sector and in the public sector and you have probably gathered that was in the construction industry. I am a glazier by trade. The public sector is much more aware of health and safety than the private sector, but when I worked for the council in Dundee a ladder was just meant to be for access; it was not meant to be a work station, as you will be aware. If I was repairing a broken window at the top of a tenement, I would just climb up the ladder and repair that window. It might cost-I do not know-£20 or £25, whereas if I said, "Oh no, I cannot do that from a ladder. I will need to get a scaffold erected", etc., it would maybe cost £400 or something to repair that window. So for the management and us it is "Mea culpa." As employees, we turned a blind eye to the health and safety aspect and just got on with it and did the job. How would the STUC look at that?
Ian Tasker: We have somebody employed with us through the janitorial staff, through what is now City Building. They make it quite clear what he can and cannot do in relation to health and safety. If we had a private contractor coming in to do that work, I do not think that would happen. It may well be that the public sector has a better understanding of health and safety, but, if you go back to Dundee City Council, they were served with an Improvement Notice in relation to their occupational health provision. They are about the only employer that I know of who was subject to that kind of access because they were not providing occupational health support to a standard that met the European Directive. So there are weaknesses in the public sector as well as in the private sector.
Q173 Jim McGovern: I was a shop steward and a safety rep for what you call bonded services. We call it DLB-direct labour. The management made it clear to me, "If you say that to repair that window we are going to have to erect a scaffold, then we will lose the contract. The private sector will get it." So everybody turned a blind eye to these things.
Ian Tasker: That is quite sad in that it is going to take a serious accident before they go back to the proper procedure. Okay, that is slightly different from procurement, but that was an organisation that grew out of the public sector work force. Why are they now moving away from providing the same levels of health and safety protection that they would have had if it had been a service provided in house?
Jim McGovern: CCT.
Q174 Chair: Can I just clarify a couple of other points? First, if there is any additional information you want to send us following the discussions we have had here, it would be helpful to get that. Following the exchanges that we have had, is there anything in particular that you think we should either go and see or people that we should make a point of meeting who would illustrate or expand the sort of issues we have been discussing earlier? If you cannot think of it just now, you can always come back to us and let us know.
Ian Tasker: I would suggest that you might want to consider visiting Spirit AeroSystems and seeing their set-up, but also Tullis Russell, who Spirit AeroSystems engaged with. Unite started to-
Q175 Chair: Lindsay Roy has already suggested to us that we visit Tullis Russell, and we are trying to agree and arrange setting that up.
Ian Tasker: The other thing I might be able to arrange would be to get a couple of the families together from ICL to have a chat with you or some of you if you are up in Scotland in relation to their case and their engagement with the HSE, if you thought that would be useful.
Q176 Chair: All the members here actually live in Scotland so we are there fairly frequently. We are arranging a meeting either on 17 or 24 October, and it might very well be that the evening before that, if we had an informal event either at the STUC or somewhere else, that would be a worthwhile way of meeting a number of people who could discuss different aspects of the sort of points that we have been covering.
Ian Tasker: We could extend that because obviously I am in contact with a number of other families in that situation, so that might be useful for the Committee.
Q177 Chair: Maybe we can discuss that privately about how we do it and who we bring in. Colleagues, are there any other points that you want to raise? Are there any final observations that you have to give us or any answers that you had ready to questions that we have not asked you?
Ian Tasker: We have discussed probably most of the stuff that I was putting into bullet points on the train down to London, including occupational health, but we could perhaps do more in Scotland on providing funded occupational health provision that would address the two key issues, which are musculoskeletal disorders and stress. We are just not quite there yet and I think it does need early intervention. Sometimes these interventions should take place when people are still in the workplace. I think it has been a useful experience for the STUC. We look forward to following the inquiry as it continues.
Chair: Thanks very much.