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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1344-i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Scottish Affairs Committee
Health and Safety in Scotland
Wednesday 29 June 2011
David Ashton, Paul Stollard and David Snowball
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 74
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Taken before the Scottish Affairs Committee
on Wednesday 29 June 2011
Mr Alan Reid (Chair)
Dr Eilidh Whiteford
In the absence of the Chairman, Mr Alan Reid was called to the Chair.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: David Ashton, Director, Field Operations Directorate, Health and Safety Executive, Paul Stollard, Regional Director, Field Operations Scotland and Northern Ireland, Health and Safety Executive, and David Snowball, Acting Director, Hazardous Installations Directorate, Health and Safety Executive, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Thank you all very much for coming along this afternoon to help us with our inquiry into Health and Safety in Scotland. Our Chairman, Ian Davidson, sends his apologies but he is on a trip to Germany this week. Perhaps you would start off by introducing yourselves.
David Ashton: Thank you very much. I am David Ashton. I am the Director of Field Operations for the Health and Safety Executive. We have approximately 1,200 staff throughout Great Britain who carry out the field regulation of the non-major hazard activities that fall to HSE from construction through to manufacturing, education, agriculture and so forth. By background, I joined HSE in 1977 as a health and safety inspector. The first 10 years of my career were spent in our Glasgow office.
Paul Stollard: I am Paul Stollard. I am HSE’s Director for Scotland, so I work with David specifically with Scottish businesses’ interests and with the work force.
David Snowball: My name is David Snowball. I am the Acting Director of HSE’s Hazardous Installations Directorate, and I have responsibility for 550 staff who inspect in the "major hazards" onshore and offshore industries across the whole of the UK.
Q2 Chair: Is there any opening statement that you would like to make?
David Ashton: Thank you. I will give the briefest of opening remarks because we realise that we are here to help you in any way that we can, either today or in the time between now and the autumn session, when you will, perhaps, meet the Minister.
David Ashton: Externally, the very recently published fatal injuries statistics give a reasonably reassuring picture, although that is still 15 deaths and I don’t make light of that, but we see a continuing reduction over time. I think a broadly reassuring message about health and safety at work in Scotland and about our influence on that would be what I hope to convince you is a valid conclusion for you to draw in the course of these discussions.
Particular characteristics in Scotland that have struck me in preparing for today’s discussions are the improvements that we see through the work that we do with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. I can personally compare what my colleagues describe to me now with what it was like 30 years ago, when I was doing the work on the ground. It is substantially better now. There is a very good sense of partnership with various other organisations that can help carry forward the message, because HSE cannot and should not try to raise standards purely through our own efforts. That would be impractical and quite a wrong philosophy to adopt.
Internally, as regards HSE and the staff who report to me, I would describe them, if I may, as a resilient bunch of people, very professional in their outlook, and they are getting on with the job they do, although they are living in uncertain times. We are endeavouring through strong communications with our staff to describe to them the change programme that we will be taking them through over the spending review period.
Q3 Chair: Thank you. You mentioned the spending review period. Like all Government Departments, you have to make savings. Would you tell us how you are going to achieve these savings?
David Ashton: Yes, indeed. The headline statistic is a reduction of 35% in our grant in aid over the four-year period. That does not translate through to a reduction of a third or thereabouts in staff in my part of HSE, and certainly not of front-line staff, because part of our philosophy is to maintain front-line resources in preference to the other staff that we have, frankly. We have developed a change programme, which is as much about improving the organisation, seeking efficiencies, economies, improving our effectiveness and, frankly, our productivity, because those benefits help us greatly with the other part of the challenge that we face, which is obviously to be affordable and to hit our financial targets. I mentioned that that will not lead to a reduction of 35% in staff. What I meant by that is that we would envisage a considerably smaller reduction in our numbers for reasons that I would like to explain briefly, if I may.
We made quite a quick start in HSE as a whole on the costs of the organisation. I n the year that ended on 31 March just past, we had reduced costs by £29 million. There were two principal contributing activities to that. One was that we had a voluntary early severance scheme , and 201 staff, I think, left the organisation in February on severance terms. M any of them were in support, corporate , back office roles , if you like, in our main headquarters, which is in Bootle on Merseyside. The other area was to take a hard look at our estates. We have in excess of 30 offices throughout Great Britain . We are fortunate that , when those properties were taken over previous years, they were always, with very limited exceptions, on a five- year lease break or lease end terms. S o within the period of five years we can look at all our estates and either renegotiate terms in accordance with the GPU rules that now apply or vacate the building. We have already begun what is a pretty aggressive programme of reducing the space that we occupy. What is called hot- desking is now our policy and, indeed, closing some offices, not in Scotland , as it happens, but at the moment we are in the process of closing our offices in Preston and Manchester and moving the staff to our Bootle headquarters. That programme will continue and it reduces financial press ure on us through the spending r eview period considerably.
If I may just mention another very significant factor in the extent of the reductions that we might need to make to staffing, it would work out to a reduction in our payroll of up to around 19% over the four-year period were cost recovery to produce no additional income for us. However, we are introducing cost recovery as from April next year. We do no t yet know how much money that will bring in, but clearly we would use the money that is given to us for recruiting staff once recruitment resumes, with very much the aim of maintaining front-line capabilities.
Q4 Chair: You mentioned a payroll reduction of 19%. Is that reducing staff numbers by 19%, paying staff less or a combination of the two?
David Ashton: It is certainly not paying staff less. I would describe it simply as the worst case destination that my change programme would lead us to if cost recovery generated no additional source of income for us. It would translate to a reduction of up to around a fifth in staff over the entire period, with the voluntary early severance scheme having proved to be a good start to that, but, no, not seeking to reduce the salaries paid to existing staff.
Q5 Chair: If you are losing staff towards the end of their careers, is there a risk that you will lose a lot of valuable expertise?
David Ashton: There is an inevitability that you will lose expertise and the wisdom of experience that those people take with them, but that has always been the case. We are not recruiting at the moment for obvious reasons, so we lose the staff who reach the end of their careers when that point arrives.
Q6 Chair: You said that you were going to concentrate on backroom staff leaving and maintain the front-line staff, but is there any risk that the front-line staff will end up having to spend more of their time on admin duties that the back - up staff in the past would have carried out for them?
David Ashton: Yes, and it is a risk that we will strive to avoid because we do not want to become internally misshapen and use expensively trained inspectors to do other functions that do not require their particular skills. There are a number of ways of achieving that. One is to modernise the way we work, frankly, around our estates, so that by the judicious use of IT we can render staff productive and efficient, and, I suppose in rather blunt terms, automate some of the back office functions that used to require other staff.
May I just add something that perhaps I should have said earlier? When I talk about front-line staff, I am not only talking about inspectors. We have a very large number of staff in front-line roles who actually come from administrative backgrounds. Over the years we have directed them into front-line roles such as one that we call "visiting officer."
Q7 Lindsay Roy: Would you give us some examples of what you mean by "cost recovery"?
David Ashton: Yes. The principle is this. This would be the work of inspectors only and is a point specific to warranted inspectors. Where we carry out an inspection or an investigation-we are still working through definitions to test-run this in some of our offices in the autumn, ready for going live formally next April-and we find a material fault, which is a serious risk im properly controlled by the duty-holder , creating risk to one of their workers or a member of the public , we will then charge that duty-holder for the time that we spend carrying out that visit and putting the matter right. They will in fact pay our sal aries for the duration of that.
Q8 Lindsay Roy: Is that enforceable ?
David Ashton: It will be introduced through regulations. A consultation document will be issued in about a week’s time. There will be a 12-week consultation period to allow everybody to have their say about the merits, the principles and the way that we propose to make that work. May I just add that where we find no fault-in other words, we visit a company that is compliant with the law-our message to them and what we will be saying is, "This visit will be both brief," because we have been directed by the Government, very properly, to concentrate on poor performance in high risk activities, "and there will be no cost to you, the duty-holder, from our attention, because we have found you in compliance with the law."
Q9 Lindsay Roy: But revenue will diminish, presumably, as people are aware of the cost recovery mechanism and hopefully improve health and safety.
David Ashton: Yes. If our revenue diminished because of ever higher standards of compliance, I don’t think I could protest about that.
Q10 Lindsay Roy: No, not at all. In fact, it is a dividend from it, or a potential dividend.
David Ashton: Yes, I agree.
Q11 Mike Freer: Following on from Lindsay’s question, cost recovery is a good point to look at, and also relationships with business. Is there not then a danger that the organis ation, while seeking to be risk-based, would also look to those who can pay first? I f you look at some of the regulatory bodies, they have often sought to make examples of organisations that have deep pockets because it is an easy win and they can pay the fines. Is there a danger that the HSE could go down that route?
David Ashton: There clearly is a temptation that one would do that. I would go on record as saying that I think that is improper, but it also runs entirely counter to the Government’s policy, which we are adopting and implementing in all good faith, which is to concentrate on poor performance. The Minister has used the word "rogues". Confronted with a situation where, perhaps, a very poor performer said, "You are wasting your time seeking money from me. I won’t pay. You would be better off going to the compliant NHS trust or large manufacturer down the road with deep pockets to get your revenue," we have to have a very clear position on that, which is to stay in contact with that rogue duty-holder.
Q12 Mike Freer: So risk will always trump ability to pay.
David Ashton: Very much so, yes.
Q13 Mike Freer: Is there also a danger of double charging, because, of course, some high-risk organisations pay in advance for their inspection regime through COMAH? Is there a danger that they will get charged twice or will they just have to pay once?
David Ashton: David Snowball will answer in detail about how the COMAH regime applies, but no, it is specifically excluded. You will pay a fee for your material faults and shortcomings, but, if you are already in a cost recovery regime such as COMAH, there will be no change.
David Snowball: That is right. A cost recovery regime already applies in onshore and offshore major hazards. That is gathered on the back of the time spent by inspectors doing the routine range of interventions, inspections, safety assessments, investigations and so on.
David Ashton: There is a fundamental difference that in major hazard regimes, including the nuclear regime, the operators need our permission to operate in the form of a licence or an accepted safety case, with very few exceptions. That is not true in the less hazardous, lower-risk activities that my staff regulate. Hence, the development of the model that says, "You will only pay when we arrive and find fault with your standards."
Q14 Mike Freer: In the short term, through the cost recovery regime, if you exceed your expectations, do you get to keep the extra cost recovery or will the Treasury claw that back?
David Ashton: There is a discussion yet to be had about how much, if any, of the revenue HSE is given. A decision has not been reached on that yet.
Q15 Mike Freer: The CBI has also raised a concern that, while you are looking at the high-risk ability to pay operators, what about the small businesses, which, perhaps, as you say, are not seeking not to pay, but do not have the same deep pockets? Can you provide a low-cost advice regime for those businesses so that it does not become burdensome on them?
David Ashton: Yes. I think we already do to a very great extent. As the NAO’s report to the Committee established, the health and safety website that we have had some 22 million visits last year. It is rather revered the world over as a source of expert practical, very well written, pragmatic health and safety advice and guidance. It is written in English, which is a world business language, so it does have a very high international standing. We are not resting on our laurels. We are moving from a telephone-based advice service, which is privately provided at HSE’s expense, called Infoline, which closes in the course of this year, towards greater reliance on the web-based information that we have. We have taken, I think, 19 of our inspectors offline for three months to look at all the guidance we have on the most important subjects-the basics are asbestos, safety when working at a height and so on-to make that guidance as accessible, relevant and user-friendly as possible, so that we have as good a source of supportive advice to small firms that wish to comply but are not experts in health and safety, and do not have a great deal of resource or personal time, to make it easy for them to comply if they have the willingness to come and engage with the subject in that way.
Q16 Mike Freer: I have one final question on the impact of cost recovery and, if you like, skewed behaviour. Is there a danger that the smaller businesses that, historically, might have sought your advice will now shy away from inviting an inspection for fear of being lumbered with a big bill?
David Ashton: I think with some firms that will happen on some occasions; I would hope and expect it to be very few and far between. If those firms were wary of contacting us but wanted to go to other places for advice, apart from our website, the Government has launched very recently a system called OSHCR-Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register-which I believe has well over 2,000 registered consultants on it. It flows from a recommendation by Lord Young in the "Common Sense, Common Safety" report last year. Again, there is a very large expert body to which companies like that could turn if they did not wish to turn to us.
Q17 Chair: You are going to be putting into effect all these efficiency savings. What procedures do you have in place for auditing the impact of these savings on health and safety in Scotland?
David Ashton: The first return we get as the years progress, of course, is the objective data on injuries and ill health at work. We do place great store on that, not only because the trend is a positive one, which is flattering to us, but because it is one of the single most salient measures of health and safety performance. Paul is much more connected than I am to Scottish organisations and the Scottish Parliament, and receives a lot of feedback through the very good partnership work in Scotland, which is another source of subjective or impressionistic feedback about conditions and standards.
Paul Stollard: It is very hard to be able to quantify the impact that we have, apart from all the other factors, which means health and safety. What we do know is that when we do specific campaigns or specific processes, such as our safety and health awareness days in farming-because farming is our biggest risk in Scotland and is the most dangerous work activity there is-those do seem to leave good lessons with farmers; they value them and they are still implementing them in their farms a year or two years later. In that sort of way we can check. Certainly, in talking to major employers and major businesses, where I would meet them direct, such as people like Babcock, who are doing the aircraft carriers, and the Scottish Resources Group, who do the open cast coal, they very much value our interventions and regard us as an extremely useful support on site and a health check for them. At both ends of the market, from farming to the big businesses, we have some indications that we are in the right field. One of the benefits of working in Scotland is that it is a relatively small group of people and, therefore, you get to know people. We have good networks in various representative bodies. We have a partnership with the Scottish Government, with their Centre for Healthy Working Lives, and with the local authorities, which is proving extremely useful in testing and feeding back on what we do.
Q18 Fiona O'Donnell: Do you also consult and keep in touch with Scottish branches of trade unions?
Paul Stollard: Definitely. The STUC is represented by a couple of members on what we call PHASS, which is the Partnership on Health and Safety in Scotland.
Fiona O'Donnell: I apologise for my late arrival. I was at another meeting.
David Snowball: There is another forum for that, which is the Oil Industry Advisory Committee, which is a tripartite body. It has members of trade unions on it as well as representatives from industry. That is routine as part of our consultation with trade unions.
Q19 Lindsay Roy: I understand fully your concerns about the agricultur e industry. We can identify in terms of your commitment the education al campaign with the agricultural sector. I will be devil’s advocate for a moment , though . How do you know that it has made an improvement, because we are told that the statistical basis is pretty unreliable and o ften incidents are not reported? I want to know later on about any evidence about 50% not being reported. How do you know it is that? If we stick to the agricultur e industry at the moment, how do you know that there has been an improvement?
Paul Stollard: We do not know that there has been an improvement. What I was trying to suggest was that we have good evidence that the information we give to farmers is valued and, as far as we can tell, they remember it. It does not necessarily mean that they are going to use it on a cold, wet hillside when they are dealing with ear tagging two sheep or something. We would certainly be trying to give them the sort of information they need. We work very closely with Lantra, the National Farmers Union Scotland, and with some of the agricultural colleges to try and ensure that we are giving advice and help in a way that farmers can use.
Q20 Jim McGovern: My own background before I had this job was in the construction industry. I was quite surprised to hear Mr Stollard say that the farming industry-agriculture-has the worst record in terms of accidents. I know I have seen some pretty horrific accidents in the construction industry. Would it be fair for me to assume that workplaces that are organised with trade unions and elect their own safety reps are less likely to have a bad record in terms of accidents than non-organised workplaces?
David Ashton: Yes. The established research is that businesses that have safety representatives who carry out that role have better standards of health and safety than otherwise. There is research that verifies that. Construction and agriculture are two of our priority sectors. That purely reflects their health and safety record. There is, nevertheless, a significant difference between them. Although the figure for Scotland’s fatal injuries last year improved over previous years, many of them were in agriculture, and many of those were to elderly and self-employed workers. They are very difficult to reach. Geographically, they are difficult within a farm setting, but in terms of, perhaps, the attitude and philosophy they have towards the activities they conduct on their farms, that is a considerable challenge to us.
The situation is different in construction in one important respect in that it is amenable to the conventional techniques that we use of inspection. There are some powerful organisations, whether trade unions or tripartite bodies, such as CONIAC, and other organisations, major duty-holders that we can work with on a supply chain basis, but they do not exist to the same effective extent in agriculture.
The one decision that we have made in terms of any reductions in staffing that we may have to make over the coming years is that we want to protect the front-line resource that is available to inspect and regulate the construction industry relative to the other things we do, such as the safety profile, but also the further opportunities that are very readily there to improve standards further. The situation is more difficult in agriculture.
Q21 Chair: What ideas do you have for improving the situation in agriculture?
David Ashton: The first idea that we don’t have, if I could start there-I hope that doesn’t sound strange-is that it is not obvious that a programme of routine inspection is likely to be effective. We have, in total, in the non-major hazard part of HSE, something like 100 staff in Scotland. There are 17,000 or so farms. The figures are in the NAO report. Whereas the other things we inspect tend to be clustered into the central belt or around conurbations, so that you can inspect and deal with them fairly intensively, clearly that is not true with agriculture. We have thought for some years that a programme of inspections is not the way forward. We are better to get 200 farmers together for a safety and health awareness day, where we are a very low profile presence. It is not an HSE-run event. We bring in trainers who are farmers, who, through a sense of community in which they live and work, have decided that, as well as running their own farms, they will provide training to fellow farmers. I am thinking of organisations such as Lantra. They demonstrate to their fellow farmers the sort of pitfalls and the safety precautions that are appropriate. If we run 25 of those in the course of a year and we are able to get 200 or 250 farmers to those, who then spread messages to their fellow farmers through friendship circles and families, we think we can have quite a wide impact on the challenges, whether it is a wide, deep and lasting impact.
Q22 Fiona O'Donnell: Are you confident that that approach reaches out to some very isolated island communities in Scotland ? Do these events travel round?
Paul Stollard: Very much so. We have done them on the Shetlands and the Orkneys. We did one for fish farming specifically last autumn, right up in the north-west. It is the only event that I have been to where you could choose to arrive by car or by boat. We had moorings. We had over 100 fish farm workers-operatives-coming in for a very intensive day that we did with the Northern Lighthouse Board, with the RNLI and with other people, because fish farming is a subsection, but it is quite a dangerous subsection that we are concerned about.
David Ashton: I would merely add, if I may, going right back to the analysis by Lord Robens in 1972, that everything, eventually, depends on willingness: the willingness of a duty-holder to raise and maintain good standards. If that willingness fundamentally is not there, if that light has not come on in somebody’s head, the fact that they have that particular attitude on a very remote farm simply makes a bad situation even worse, but it does not change the fundamental, which is the attitude rather than the occupation or the location.
Q23 Dr Whiteford: Clearly, agriculture is a big priority in Scotland. It is certainly a big priority in the area that I represent. In terms of the changes that are coming and the cuts that you are facing, there is a proposal that inspections be reduced by 35%. From what you are saying, you are suggesting that inspections are not the way to go for agricultural health and safety. Are there other sectors in which you would be looking to move away from inspection? There are other areas such as quarrying and social care that have been put in this so-called medium risk. I guess the other implicit question is, are those priorities right for Scotland, given that agriculture is considered a medium risk, when, in reality, we know in Scotland that it is a very high area of risk?
David Ashton: Yes. There are a number of published sectors-lower risk manufacturing, for instance-where the 35% reduction in proactive inspection will come from. I describe it in a slightly different way. The proposition to us is that there should be no intervention without a clear reason. I am very comfortable with that because, in the area of cost recovery, the first thing a duty-holder would say is, "Why me? Why are you here? Why have you picked me and not the person down the road? I don’t need your permission to operate. Why are you here?" That might be because an organisation is in one of the priority sectors, such as high-risk manufacturing or construction, for example. Equally, the reason for intervening could be that, although they are not in that sector, we have other reasons to suspect poor performance. The first simple thing we do, for intelligence purposes, is to look back at our previous record, and these are scored as well as described in words in our computer records. In some terms, a high score indicates a bad area of health and safety performance. A quarry with poor scores would feature in our inspection programme. It is absolutely not the case that there are some no-go areas for inspection. We have just been asked by the Government to be very scientific, to have a good rationale for going where we go and for that being risk based. That is quite a proper discipline for us to have.
One of the best indicators of future performance is the record of previous performance. There simply is that logical connection. It is leopards not changing their spots, I suppose. Other things that might bring companies that are not in priority sectors to our awareness-this could include farms, particularly farms that employ-is that we might receive reports that they have failed to inspect their lifting plant, as they are required to do by law; or, when it is inspected, faults are found and the certificates are copied to us; or we receive complaints about standards at those premises; or, indeed, they report injuries to us under the RIDDOR regulations. All those would be legitimate prompts for an inspection in any sector.
Paul Stollard: Can I deal with social care? Inspection is not the only thing we would work with. We have other things we use to change behaviours. Particularly in social care with the care homes, we would want to work with the other partners, because that is a business that is regulated in such a complex way now. Changes came in on 1 April and brought in a new commission, SCSWIS, which was the Care Commission before, but it was renamed. That is the body that we need to be doing joint work with so that we are not tackling that alone. In that sort of area, health and safety concerns move into the other concerns about care and regulation.
Q24 Dr Whiteford: Can I come back to the broader issue of inspections in terms of what you see as the potential risks of focusing on, supposedly, the higher risk end of that? Do you think there are potential drawbacks to that approach, and how would you aim to mitigate those?
David Ashton: I think the proposition to go where the risks are highest is always right for a regulator, which will be relatively small in proportion to the number of premises and workers that it could be responsible for, so I do not challenge the basic proposition. There is a danger that the message gets abroad that we will in almost no circumstances inspect many places of work, and some could be stupid enough to interpret that as a licence to cut standards and to ignore health and safety. It is stupid because health and safety has a habit of biting back. If you do neglect it wilfully like that, you may pay a really horrible price for it. The clarity of contact policy that we are operating now means that it is clearer to some duty- holders than it would have been before that our frequencies of inspection are not high, and they are very flexible depending on the risk. If you run a low-risk operation, there is little chance that you would be inspected. That situation has not changed, but it is now more visible to that duty-holder. If we are correct in our intelligence that they are low risk, and they are likely to be in a fairly compliant form of activity, inspection by us could be a burden on business that does not justify itself.
Q25 Dr Whiteford: I certainly hear that from some manufacturers who find it a burden. It disincentivises manufacture, which is obviously very important for economic growth at the present time. Coming from a rural area , which will be affected by this , where there i s a concentration of quite high- risk industries, how are the cuts going to affect your ability to manage the geographical spatial dimension of risk, beca use quite often those very high- risk industries are in more remote areas?
David Ashton: Yes. Through the change programme that I mentioned, I hope our visiting staff are less office-dependent, that there is a greater degree of working from home, supported by IT, and that the contact time they achieve actually goes up. That would be one of our success measures over the period. In other words, we have a benign outcome that the change programme-being galvanised by the financial demand put upon us, and the saving required of us-kind of obliges us or encourages us to modernise our ways of working and produces a more contact-rich form of work. That means, therefore, over any given period, it is more likely rather than less that we can get proper coverage over the whole area of Scotland, depending on the risks meriting our attention in the first place, and it not being an unproductive burden.
Q26 Dr Whiteford: So you do no t think that a reduction in inspections is inevitably going to lead to inspections hap pening in more accessible areas.
David Ashton: I certainly don’t, no. I would be really disappointed if that were to happen. I carried out a simple analysis with some fellow regulators in Europe, who face very similar challenges: to reduce costs, to introduce a more risk-oriented philosophy to their work and to modernise their ways of working. Some of their experiences were salutary. Let me say we would want to achieve that in terms of productivity. We would want to emulate that.
Chair: May we move on to the next question ?
Q27 Lindsay Roy: Can you tell me how you plan to improve data capture? The NAO evidence suggested that nearly half of all non-fatal accidents were unreported. First, how do you know that? Secondly, how good do you think the evidence is on which you base your programme for inspections, and for proactive inspections in particular?
David Ashton: On the first question, the Labour Force Survey is a sample sent, typically, to 10,000 households. It asks questions about many things about work in the labour force, including some on health and safety. From that data, our statisticians work out that approximately half of injuries that should be reported under the RIDDOR regulations are not, particularly the ones that cause over three days’ but not major injury absence from work.
Q28 Lindsay Roy: T his might be a bureaucratic nightmare for other people , but is there any opportunity to record such accidents in hospitals or GP surgeries on a computerised framework, where they tick a box, it is anonymised, but at least we know there has been an accident at work? Have you thought about something like that?
David Ashton: Yes. Studies of that kind have been done, including some in Glasgow, to validate both the levels of reporting but also the picture of standards within given industries or activities and the nature of injuries suffered. There is considerably more intelligence available to the statisticians to work out what the real priorities are. They do not only have to rely on the rather unreliable RIDDOR regulations with only 50% reporting. We do back that up with other intelligence, and, also, on other subjects such as days lost through ill-health, which you do not capture at all through the RIDDOR regulations. They are very much skewed towards safety.
Q29 Lindsay Roy: In terms of improving data capture, then, what proposals do you have?
David Ashton: On the RIDDOR regulations at the moment, there is a consultation exercise which stems from the Lord Young review that I mentioned. The effect would be that organisations would keep records of accidents that cause more than a three-day absence from work, but they would only have to report to us where more than seven days were lost. That will reduce the number reported to us and reduce the level of under-reporting as well, inevitably, because it is in that bottom end that the major area of under-reporting lies. A consultation exercise on that has produced a very large volume of returns. Over 700 people responded, which is unprecedented in our view. My staff are summarising that to present to the HSE board for consideration in August.
Q30 Lindsay Roy: Do you have any idea of where there is least accuracy in terms of data? Is it in places like agriculture where it is one or two people who are engaged?
David Ashton: It is among the self-employed where there is almost no reporting, for a fairly obvious reason perhaps. Agriculture has a very high number of self-employed. As the fatalities show, it is 11 out of 15, many of whom were in agriculture and many of them were self-employed. That is where the highest level of under-reporting is.
Q31 Lindsay Roy: A key plank in taking this forward is developing or sharing good practice. Does that mean that you have a fairly comprehensive coverage of the whole country? It is a point that Eilidh was making. If agriculture is a priority, are there six or seven of these good-practice events throughout the country on an annual basis? Is that how it operates?
Paul Stollard: Yes, there are. We would be looking at where we have been in the last four or five years and making certain that we were getting a full coverage, ensuring that all farms were eventually going to be invited, and spreading it out either by using colleges, marts or model farms to house them. Can I just give one area of data that is very valuable to us? That is complaints. People can phone in with a complaint about their employer or their workplace, not so much affecting the self-employed, but that gives us very useful data about other employers. Some of that we follow up with a visit; more we follow up with a phone call, and you can achieve quite a lot over the phone. David was saying earlier that a lot of our front-line staff may not be inspectors, but they are skilled people in talking over the phone to get a business to consider its ways. That yields us quite a lot of useful contacts during the year.
Q32 Jim McGovern: The figures we have before us suggest that nearly 3,000 people were either killed or seriously injured in road traffic incidents. The figures here relate to 2008. I do no t know if that is because they are the most recent figures we have. Do you think accidents reportable under RIDDOR should include work-related road traffic incidents?
David Ashton: No, we do not.
Q33 Jim McGovern: Why not?
David Ashton: Although they are counted in some countries in their statistics, they are not reportable to us purely by virtue of the working status of the driver at the time. Our reason for that would be that, in general, we want to apply regulatory systems which do not double regulate whoever the duty-holder is, not least because the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act has the beauty and drawback of great flexibility in that it can apply flexibly anywhere, but you then must have some sensible discretion about applying it. One of our intentions is not to apply it where other regulatory regimes exist and are effective. In the case of road traffic accidents, predominantly, they are dealt with through the police, their investigations and the actions that they take. We do not count road traffic accidents in the fatality statistics, although there are, obviously, a very large number of them-several thousand per year.
There are other sectors, if I may generalise for a moment, where the sheer breadth of the working of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act could draw us in. Sometimes bereaved families seek to draw us in. We deal with them with sympathy, particularly if we are resisting being drawn in for business reasons and because of the philosophy that I have explained: that we do not want to impose double layers of regulation on duty-holders, who have enough to worry about already without being regulated twice over, as it were. Those sectors include areas of healthcare and have recently included areas where the armed forces are on active service. Again, we do not wish to be drawn into that area. We think it would be unhelpful if we were drawn into regulating on top of the other regulatory activities that already exist. That is our broad approach.
Q34 Jim McGovern: I participate in what is called the Police Parliamentary Scheme, where MPs work with their local police force for a number of days over a year. I have completed it. One of the days was spent with the traffic police. I noticed you refer to "road traffic accidents", but I refer to "road traffic incidents." It was the police who told me that. When I asked them why, they said, "‘Accident’ implies that it could not be helped; it’s just one of these things that happen; whereas ‘incident’ suggests that it could have been avoided." The police are taking steps to illustrate to people that an accident could always be avoided. It is an incident. An accident implies that it was an act of God or something like that. If you do not record work-related road traffic incidents, that, again, would seem to imply that it is not important enough to be recorded by the HSE.
David Ashton: We would argue that it is effectively dealt with and regulated by another regulator, principally, the police.
Q35 Jim McGovern: As I said, my background was in the construction industry. I was unfortunate enough to have been involved in a road traffic incident with a van full of glass. I got out relatively unscathed, but the driver was badly cut when the glass flew forward as a result of the impact. How could you possibly say that that is not worthy of recording as an accident at work?
David Ashton: I certainly would not want to use a phrase like "not worthy of being recorded" because the consequences are appalling to the victim of an incident like that. If we counted in our statistics a whole range of things where injury has happened and there is a connection to work, it would appear that we were taking responsibility for whole areas of regulation which we are not either resourced to take on or in which we are expert. We could become expert in it. Clearly, we could train ourselves in it. My main point would be the one I have made. It would lead to a situation where some activities were being double regulated, and I think that is undesirable. If the police dealt very effectively with the problems in the storage of glass, the maintenance of the vehicle, the training and sobriety of the driver, or whatever might have been the issues, then the situation has been effectively dealt with. I am dwelling on this partly because a significant part of my role is dealing with the most difficult cases, of which the most difficult are not where we are acting but where we are electing not to act. Our title, remit and the broadly worded nature of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act leave bereaved families, not unreasonably, thinking, "Surely, you ought to be acting. You are the Health and Safety Executive. This person, my daughter", or whoever it is, "was killed in the course of her work, or hitting some roadworks or so on, and you should be involved."
I would like to improve on the quality of the answer I gave about work-related road traffic incidents. There are some in which, clearly, we do take an interest. If a contractor establishes some dangerous roadworks and a driver innocently piles into them, we have dealt with many cases like that, unfortunately, and they fall to us. A particular case I am thinking of at the moment, where the family would like us to investigate, is where the state of the road was, arguably, the factor that caused their daughter’s fatal accident. We argue not to become involved in those. They are matters under the Highways Act for the highways authorities. It is not an easy line to pursue and we certainly do not do it callously or uncaringly, nor do we do it simply out of convenience for the pressure on our own resources, although that is a relevant factor. We are the size we are, and these broader areas could be very large. As I maintain, a model that involved repeated regulatory attention on a particular incident would not be a good model.
Q36 Fiona O'Donnell: I do not want to drill down into too much detail, but I think it would be interesting to know. Is the area such as patient transportation something that would not be covered by you?
Paul Stollard: I can think of a number of cases we have like that at the moment at which we are looking. I cannot discuss them. That would be very much an issue for us. It may be issues to do with the way a lorry had been loaded in the yard before it left. That may also be an issue for us.
Q37 Fiona O'Donnell: Obviously, the fact that you record an accident in an accident book is because that then triggers, hopefully, the employer to think, "Are there any other steps we need to take to avoid this?" I am thinking about the care sector and my own experience of transporting young people with behavioural problems. If some behaviour occurs in the car in the course of a journey and then there is an accident, I wonder why the employer would have to go back and review their policy in terms of transporting that child, to undertake a risk assessment. I would not have thought the police would have entered into that kind of discussion.
Paul Stollard: We have been in discussion with people like the Scottish Ambulance Service about things. In the last year I spoke to their board. Some of the issues there are issues that would interest us. I do not want to talk about the specifics, but yes.
Q38 Chair: At sea, would I be right in saying that the HSE is involved with the MCA or the MAIB, or are you involved at all? I know you mentioned fish farms. I am not quite clear where the dividing line is here.
Paul Stollard: Fish farms, essentially, stay in one place, and often they are quite close to the shore; so we regulate those. Essentially, when a boat leaves the harbour, it is the responsibility of the Marine and Coastguard Agency rather than ourselves. We occasionally provide support and assistance. I can think of a case at the moment where the transfer is between the activities in the dock and the boat leaving. We would be helpful and we are involved in supporting the Crown Office with that, and maybe when something happens when a boat is tied up. Once it has left, we do not normally become involved.
Q39 Chair: Where does a boat sailing out to the fish farm lie, even if it is going a few metres?
Paul Stollard: If it is servicing the fish farm, just going backwards and forth, we would be interested in it, but if it is a ferry sailing to Rotterdam, then, no.
Q40 Chair: In my own constituency there was an incident a few years ago at Dunoon Pier when a ferry was docking. There seemed to be a dividing line. If the person’s foot was on the pier, it was your responsibility, but if the foot was on the ferry it was the MCA, and what happened if they had one foot in either place? Presumably, you do have procedures and working practices.
Paul Stollard: We have memos of understanding. I can think of one involving somewhere on the Clyde at the moment where we are working very closely over a particular vessel that sank.
Q41 Chair: I would have thought that a lot of your expertise in other areas would also be applicable to ships at sea-the canteen, for example. Do you work with the MCA to avoid duplication of regulations?
Paul Stollard: We would offer to provide expert advice if they asked for it. I can think of an example in the north-east of Scotland where there was a serious fire on board a boat in harbour and we provided the electrical engineers who did the investigation. Maybe it was David’s staff, but we provided them from our Aberdeen office.
Q42 Jim McGovern: Leading on from a previous question about how accurate the data are, the National Audit Office has said: "There are insufficient data for the Health and Safety Executive to monitor fully the effectiveness of its activities in Scotland." How does the Health and Safety Executive prioritise when you cannot really be sure if the information you have is accurate?
David Ashton: Our statisticians resolutely advise us to be wary of over-analysing from small datasets, when a particular figure moves one way one year versus another. They are very wary of drawing conclusions, and they have proved right over time. Looking at injuries and ill-health at work, the more useful dataset for working out what the priorities are for Great Britain is the data for Great Britain because it simply is a larger population. There is much more information. Statisticians are prepared to produce much more confident conclusions from that.
What we then need to do is to ask what the dimension is within the data which is particular to an industry, a country, a location or a region. We had quite a long debate with the NAO about whether there is a particularly Scottish dimension to health and safety at work standards. Is Scotland inherently in some way more dangerous than England and Wales, which could be traced back to a genuine Scottish factor, such as insouciant attitudes towards personal safety or something? I say that because all our analysis shows that is not the case at all, but the determinant of the level of risks that one runs is the activity that they are carrying out, regardless of where they are doing it. The scaffolder in Aberdeen and the scaffolder in Newcastle run very similar levels of risk one to another.
I am not sure that the NAO ever entirely accepted our analysis. If I may stay with construction, it is true that a larger proportion of the construction workers who work in Scotland actually work on construction sites. Therefore, they are in risky occupations. The apparent injury rate in Scotland of construction workers is higher than in England, but the English construction working population includes large numbers in headquarters functions, drawing offices and so on. They are office workers, but they have the SIC construction against them. Their mere existence in English locations dilutes and apparently flatters the standards of construction safety in England as against Scotland. If you are able to leave out the sub-categories of SIC, and say, "Look at construction workers who are on construction sites in England and their counterparts in Scotland. Do they run equal risks?", our answer is yes. I feel slightly uncomfortable that the NAO does not entirely accept that analysis, but our statisticians have gone to considerable lengths to test and check that, and that is their conclusion.
Q43 Lindsay Roy: Do they tend to be smaller companies or has Scotland got leaner management structures?
Paul Stollard: I think it is because more head offices are based in the south-east of England, so large companies and consultants and engineers that are drawing office-based are more likely to be south.
Q44 Lindsay Roy: Is that statistically genuine? Have you checked that?
Paul Stollard: Yes. The NAO supported that view.
Chair: Mike you have already covered question 7 in the brief. Eilidh, do you have anything else you want to ask on question 10 in the brief?
Dr Whiteford: We have covered that.
Q45 Jim McGovern: I have to leave shortly. I would like to ask a question or make an observation and ask for your comments. A s I said, my background is in the construction industry . Back in the 1980s, tradesmen were encouraged to go on what was called a s elf-employed SE 60 or 714 certificate, which meant that they would leave the building site on a Friday as an employee of the company and come back on the Monday as a self-employed tradesman, using the same plant and equipment but no longer in the union and no longer having a safety rep to look after them. Would you agree with me that that is a relevant factor certainly in the increase in accidents in the construction industry?
David Ashton: I was a construction inspector in and around Glasgow for three years at that time, in the early 1980s, when the 714 labour-only sub-contractor concept really became quite a common feature. It was very problematical for us because, by our analysis, those people were, in terms of the labour law we enforced, employees. There are certain tests of that, established through case law, of who controls their hours of work, who provides the plant and so on.
Q46 Jim McGovern: Using the same plant as they were previously.
David Ashton: Exactly. We took cases, not always successfully, alleging that they were the employees of the organisation, although they carried 714 status which had the official label "self-employed". That was a problem then. I hope and trust it is not nearly such a problem now.
Q47 Fiona O'Donnell: We have heard some criticism of the fact that the Business Plan for Scotland is the same as the rest of the UK . You were saying, Mr Ashton, that what is happening in Scotlan d is not particularly different. I t is about activity rather than the geography of where the activity is taking place. Would you not acknowledge that there are activities that are undertaken in Scotland , such as offshore and hazardous jobs , which are not undertaken in the rest of the UK ? How would you respond to that criticism?
David Ashton: I would acknowledge exactly that. I would simply say that it would be possible to write a delivery plan for HSE in Scotland and present that to the Scottish Parliament which was more well-defined. We have only done it once. It was an innovation following the Calman inquiry two years ago. You could build on that and develop something which was a fuller description of HSE’s activities in Scotland, both major hazard and the stuff for which I am responsible. Very often, there would be a paragraph distinguishing a Scottish aspect or a prevalent activity in Scotland which was not so significant or even did not exist in England and Wales. Very often, it would be talking about the commonality of a challenge, such as construction, which we think is identical north or south of the border.
I would only add that the present approach that the Government is taking to the civil service preparing business plans, delivery plans and so on is to be very economical with those documents, to keep them short and to the point. HSE’s delivery plan is a very succinct document, not produced with glossy photographs. It was never unduly lavish, but the Government approach that we are asked and required to adopt is to be short and to the point, which is probably better than I am being in this answer. I am sorry for that. It is to be short and to the point in those documents rather than developing lengthy plans which carry a certain amount of bureaucratic burden all of their own.
Paul Stollard: Can I just add to that? In addition to those delivery plans that are public, we obviously have operational documents about how we will tackle things like hill farming, berry picking in Fife or how we are going to work with Babcocks over the aircraft carriers. We have localised things which are specifically Scottish.
David Snowball: Could I add one other point? The Chief Inspector of Offshore is based in Aberdeen and the majority of the offshore staff are all based in Aberdeen as well, so there is a real Scottish-centric aspect to our offshore and major hazards inspection work.
Q48 Fiona O'Donnell: You said that following Calman you had, for one year, produced a specific Scottish Business Plan. Was that right?
David Ashton: Yes.
Q49 Fiona O'Donnell: How was that received? Was there any feedback that that was helpful or was it noticed?
Paul Stollard: We did that at the request of that commission and an annual report. I would regularly meet, anyway, with Scottish Ministers and the leaders of all the parties in Scotland, or at least their spokesmen on health and safety. I do not think there was tremendous interest in it, to be quite honest with you. As we are moving now to a more succinct delivery plan for the whole of the HSE, the Scottish one becomes even more succinct. I would rather be talking in our partnership to which I referred with businesses about what is relevant for them and in their local areas than in a published document that tends to be fairly anodyne, I am afraid.
Q50 Dr Whiteford: Picking up the point about major hazards and avoiding catastrophes, which we always have to hope are very infrequent events, what steps do you take-perhaps this might reflect on your own work in Aberdeen-to learn from major disasters and the kind of events in the Gulf of Mexico or the recent tragedy in Milford Haven?
David Snowball: I will deal with that. After the Deep Water Horizon incident, the Offshore Environmental Inspectorate set up a review group to look at all of the lessons and learning that was coming out of that incident for two reasons. One was to make sure that we were properly on top of anything that might have implications for what was happening in the North Sea. Secondly, it was to provide a reverse look at what was happening in the Offshore Environmental Inspectorate itself, the obvious question being, "Is there anything which might be emerging from Deep Water Horizon that would affect the way in which we perceive and the way in which we presently inspect the offshore regime?" The offshore regime is a very tight-knit group of operators and quite a small community in terms of absolute numbers. As you rightly say, you cannot wait for a major incident to happen in the onshore or offshore major hazards. People have long memories. They remember when there are major incidents which happened in public. They remember Flixborough, Piper Alpha and Bunsfield; and they remember the horrible pictures of fire, explosion and everything else and the great human suffering involved in those sorts of incidents.
One of the key planks of our interventions with onshore and offshore major hazards operators is, first of all, that they have to show strong leadership on this, at a time when cost- cutting is potentially a problem. We have to emphasise some very strong themes both onshore and offshore. The critical theme we emphasise is asset integrity. Effectively, you control major hazards by keeping the major hazards materials locked up. You lock it up in pipework, tanks and in containers. Once it gets out, it is a problem. In a nutshell, the key to effective onshore and offshore major hazard risk management is to keep the stuff contained. Unfortunately, it does take a major incident sometimes to remind people that, when it does get out and gets out in sufficient quantities, there are massive consequences of that. It is a major plank of our interventions with both the onshore and the offshore operators to say, "We need strong leadership. We need strong evidence of corporate learning, and we need strong evidence that you are learning the lessons of the past." Unfortunately, many of the incidents do not have anything new to tell us. Age-old problems are not being sorted out.
Q51 Dr Whiteford: Do you have much dialogue, for example, with offshore companies in terms of the environmental impacts? Obviously, there has been the recent controversy about deep sea drilling and the potential environmental impact of that. I suppose there is the wider safety question: should that damage the environment to the extent that it would start harming people’s safety?
David Snowball: Yes. Offshore, we have routine liaison and contact with our colleagues in DECC. Onshore, we have a very strong partnership in Scotland with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, because, obviously, we have a joint function, as a joint competent authority, to make sure that accidents are not going to have serious consequences for human beings as well as for the environment. In fact, the COMAH regulations, which are the major piece of legislation which apply onshore, do not make a distinction. They say "human and environmental effects." It has that very strong focus that it is not just one or the other; it is both.
Q52 Chair: Have you compared the health and safety regime in Scotland with, say, Norway, as far as the oil industry is concerned?
David Snowball: The Chief Inspector of Offshore Division has routine contact with his colleagues not only in Norway but in Denmark, Holland and Germany. There is a North Sea Operators Forum which routinely meets. They meet quarterly. They do that for a variety of reasons, not least of which is to learn the lessons from the different regimes and to compare notes.
Q53 Lindsay Roy: You spoke earlier about your relationship with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal. We have information about discrepancies in NAO information and information from these other agencies. Has that improved? Are you disappointed about the number of prosecutions that have occurred?
Paul Stollard: One of the great success stories of the last two or three years has been the way we have been able to work even more efficiently with the health and safety division of COPFS which they set up. That has been extremely good to the extent that they have desks in our offices and are co-located.
In terms of the issues raised by the NAO, the way we have collected statistics across GB has not always been most helpful in dealing with Scottish cases. We recognise some of what the NAO has said, and that is why in the autumn we are going to be expanding the range of data we collect on prosecutions and cases leading up to prosecution so that we can ensure we do not have those problems in the future. The bringing in of the new division and the decision by them to bring in more cases as solemn procedure on indictment has led to a slight change in emphasis, which is excellent. We have seen that also in the way they have been very successful in obtaining guilty pleas in all but probably a couple of the cases they have taken. We have seen quite a marked improvement in effectiveness in having that one single point of reference.
Q54 Lindsay Roy: That has been a strengthening of communication which has led to a stronger partnership.
Paul Stollard: Very much so.
Q55 Lindsay Roy: And you are reasonably happy with the outcome.
Paul Stollard: We are very happy on that. We have a very good COPFS liaison meeting, and not only do we work with the COPFS but we have a very effective "death protocol", as we call it, with the police forces as well, which the local authority health and safety officers also tie into. When a fatality occurs, it is important that the police investigate at the beginning, first, to ensure that there isn’t anything even more serious, and, secondly, if there is a potential of corporate homicide, they would be the lead rather than ourselves. We have a number of major investigations at the moment where we are working jointly and preparing joint prosecution reports with the police.
Lindsay Roy: I understand that. Thank you.
Q56 Chair: We have evidence that the proportion of major injury cases investigated in Scotland has declined from 11% of cases in 2007-08 to 6% in 2009-10. The NAO memo said: "The Health and Safety Executive does not have information on what impact these reductions have had on the rate of compliance with the Health and Safety Act." Do you want to respond to that?
David Ashton: Yes. I will make the first observation on that. In part, the reduction in the number of major injuries investigated flowed from the pressure of other work. So there were a number which qualified for investigation. They came through a thing that was called Incident Selection Criteria, which said, "This merits investigation." If our staff do not have resources at the time to investigate it and other people have a look at it, we record that fact. The number was 68, just below 70, which is quite high. That is for Scotland. That is the proportion of 300 for Great Britain as a whole. Quite a high proportion were not investigated because we were busy doing other things, including working on a backlog of cases and some very major investigations, some of which consume individual staff full-time for possibly a year or more. One of the changes we are making this year is that we want to investigate all major injury accidents reported to us which qualify through our selection criteria as meriting investigation, and not to have any put aside not to be investigated through the lack of resources. That, as Paul said earlier, reflects the fact that we are going to re-balance the time between the proactive preventive work and the reactive investigative work so that we can achieve that.
A priori, without having done any research, if we do not investigate major injuries, a source of strong encouragement on industry to improve its performance is reduced. I will concede that it is because many of our prosecutions come from investigations. We do now see in Scotland as elsewhere some severe penalties levied which are very useful to us, frankly, because we can publicise that and that has an impact on other duty-holders, who see six-figure fines being levied and will, presumably, draw some good conclusions from that as regards their own standards. If we investigate fewer accidents reported to us, the number of prosecutions will go down because there is a very strong correlation between the two. Making a virtue of necessity, I think that is a good change that we want to make this year as regards the ones that merit but do not receive an investigation.
Paul Stollard: One example of a major investigation which we undertook, which will not lead to anything, because the Lord Advocate has decided that, was the Vale of Leven with the C.difficile outbreak, where we investigated at the request of the COPFS. I think we put something like four inspectors on that for six months to carry out a very detailed investigation, and a significant report was then given to the judge who is now carrying out the public inquiry. We would not see that in the prosecution records, but we believe that was a major public benefit, as the only investigatory body to do that.
Q57 Chair: If you put more resources into these investigations, does that mean less resources for preventive measures?
David Ashton: Yes, a re-balancing between the two, which, in part, we must do to deliver on the policy of reducing proactive inspections by a third in this SR period.
Q58 Chair: Are you satisfied that that is the best use of resources?
David Ashton: I think the two things would be valuable. I would be happy if we used the time either way. If we were able to use it for proactive work, very well risk-targeted, that is good work to be doing. Alternatively, if we use it to investigate serious injuries and we prosecute where there is severe fault and we get big fines, that is very useful as well. It is a choice between two very good activities, but it is a choice that we have to make.
Q59 Lindsay Roy: Surely, if you are effective in reducing the number of serious injuries, then you actually have more time to be proactive.
David Ashton: Yes, we do. At the moment the challenge for us is rather more an intellectual one of working out how to comply with the policy requirement to reduce proactive inspections in those areas where it is not deemed productive for us to be doing that: in other words, to work on our intelligence, to go where the risk is highest and the need is greatest with the preventive inspections that we do.
Q60 Lindsay Roy: Are you concerned that there is a requirement to reduce the number of proactive inspections? I would have thought that would have been a more localised decision in relation to resources and incidents that had occurred, and that would be a management decision.
David Ashton: No. It is published Government policy to reduce, but-
Q61 Lindsay Roy: Are you concerned about it?
David Ashton: No, not at all, because it was not the Government saying to an unwilling regulator, "Reduce your proactive inspections because they are a burden", which I would have been troubled about. That was not what was said. The task for us is to reduce proactive inspection, refocus it on to areas of highest risk, greatest need, poorest performance and rogue duty-holders, with which I am entirely comfortable.
Q62 Lindsay Roy: But that is being proactive.
David Ashton: Yes. If we free up time as a result of that and I can use that to increase the investigative work that we carry out, I think that is a good outcome as well. Investigations properly carried out and successfully concluded have a very good preventive contribution both there and more widely.
Q63 Lindsay Roy: Pardon my confusion, but is proactive work not investigative?
David Ashton: No, sorry. By "proactive" work, we mean, essentially, inspection, campaigning, safety and health awareness days, all the preventive activity which is not triggered by an incident. We use reactive work where the trigger is that something has gone wrong and there has been a complaint or an injury.
Q64 Lindsay Roy: For me inspection and investigation are not quite synonymous, but you need to do a fairly detailed inquiry in a proactive inspection.
Paul Stollard: In proactive work, the inspection would vary depending on what the risk was. If you are inspecting a large quarry, you may be a couple of days. It is appropriate to the risk. When you are investigating, and I think that is where we have a lot of very good, skilled staff, you are looking at what the incident was and then tracing that back to determine whether there are failures of plant, people, management structures or culture. In fact, you go back as far as you have to to establish why the incident happened.
Q65 Dr Whiteford: I wanted to come back to Lindsay’s previous question a wee bit earlier about the Health and Safety Division of the COPFS. Some of the evidence that we have had from them states, and I am just going to read this out for your comments: "It is noted in the Memorandum that there is an explanation from the Health and Safety Executive that following the establishment of the Specialist Health and Safety Division within COPFS the HSE were requested to review older cases which took up additional resources and this resulted in a significant reduction (46%) of cases recommended to COPFS for prosecution. It is not clear to COPFS as to how the establishing of the Division inevitably led to this." Then they go on to say that cases, where there was evidence, would be referred to them. Do you have any comment to make about that or any explanation that you can offer us?
Paul Stollard: Can I comment on that? Before, the area fiscals took the cases. The COPFS would be happy for me to say that sometimes they were done quickly and sometimes they were not. With the new division coming in, there was a transfer of cases to the division. Therefore, that meant that some cases that were two or three years old needed to be looked at again. We found that some of our inspectors were being asked to go back over prosecution reports that had previously been submitted and, perhaps, do further work or take further statements. That, obviously, took up time and there was some involvement of our inspectors in that sort of work, not because of the creation of the new division as such but because of the desire to clear off the backlog from the previous work. That is what they are referring to.
Q66 Chair: If I can put on my constituency hat, which is Argyll and Bute, you were saying that, in agriculture, one of the main methods of getting the message across was to go to events which farmers attend and do your spiel. If your farm is, say, on a small remote island, they may have been invited to these events, but because of the cost and the time involved a lot of them, obviously, won’t attend. What do you do to make sure that the message gets across to all these small islands?
Paul Stollard: That is an enormous challenge. I think it was on the Isle of Bute that we held a specific one on quad bikes-
Chair: Yes, that is right.
Paul Stollard: -which I think was led by the police, but we contributed quite heavily towards that, which was very well subscribed but, sadly, it was following on from a family tragedy. In that sense, it was a good thing.
Chair: But Bute is the easy island to get to.
Paul Stollard: That is the easy island, absolutely. I am due to go to Barra in two weeks’ time. That is not an easy island.
Chair: That is good.
Paul Stollard: We normally find that we will be oversubscribed. The last ones we did were in Forres and Dingwall, which I agree are not islands, but they are certainly not central belt. In both cases we had to turn farmers away. We do them for half a day, normally. We do 120 farmers in the morning and maybe the same in the afternoon. That is the scale of operation we will do.
What we have to rely on, and we will have to rely on more, and why I was very interested to meet the NFUS north-east of Scotland branch at the show on Friday, was where they want to do things. In that case, their area chairman, whose name, I am afraid, escapes me, wanted to put on an event, and I was happy to say that we will provide inspectors to come and take part in it.
Paul Stollard: But it is better for them almost to be doing it and using their networks to get the message across.
Q67 Lindsay Roy: One of the things you are trying to do is to change a culture. Is there feedback from individual farmers, who are saying, "As a result of this, I will change my practice in this way or that way"? In the past there has been an aversion to doing that because there is a kind of culpability that they have been doing things wrong or perhaps not as safely as possible.
Paul Stollard: Because these are often self-employed or families, this is not about culpability and it is not about us proactively encouraging prosecution of them. We are just keen to get them to change.
Q68 Lindsay Roy: That is the point I am making. Therefore, do you get feedback from individual farmers as a result of their attendance, participation and sharing of practice, saying, "I am going to change the way we do this"?
Paul Stollard: I have certainly received e-mails saying that. There will be two or three after most events. The other thing I would like to say, which we were talking about again at the show on Friday, was about working on modern apprenticeships. One of the issues is that it is very hard to reach the over-60s group of farmers who are well set in their ways, but we must tackle those who are 18, 19 or 20. We are doing a modern apprenticeship on forestry and timber where they are now going to have a mandatory health and safety component. That is very sad because I was given the example of a forestry fatality that we investigated about two weeks ago where the father died and the son survived, but he had always done what his father had said and followed his father’s way. We would obviously want to encourage youngsters to be learning new ways of doing things.
Q69 Chair: Are there any other questions? Is there anything else that you wanted to add yourselves, any answers where, afterwards, you thought you had missed something out, or are there any answers that you prepared for questions that we did not ask that you want to tell us? Is there anything else at all that you want to add?
David Ashton: Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to describe what we do. I would like to close by repeating the offer that I made. If there are further questions or further information that you would like from us that will help prepare for the hearing session which I believe you are having in the autumn, then we would, obviously, be more than willing to do that.
Paul Stollard: We would be delighted to welcome any of the Committee at a SHAD-a Safety and Health Awareness Day-for farmers. Come and see how we do it and work with them.
Chair: If you are doing one in Argyll, certainly let me know.
Paul Stollard: I can let you know the dates and venues of the next few.
Chair: Perhaps you would send the list to Rebecca.
Q70 Lindsay Roy: We visited a number of places that , on the face of it, have an exemplary health and safety record. In fact, last week we were in the Shetlands, seeing Total, and we were in Dounreay . T here are a number of companies in my constituency that have gained health and safety awards. To what extent do you disseminate that good practice?
Paul Stollard: RoSPA, who have their gold award, have a higher performers’ forum, which I have attended, and we would encourage them to act as exemplars.
Q71 Lindsay Roy: How much do they liaise with you?
Paul Stollard: We would talk to them through POOSH-Professional Organisations in Occupational Safety and Health in Scotland-which I would meet with, and they sit on an advisory group.
Q72 Lindsay Roy: So, if you are involved in a proactive investigation and you find something that is quite exemplary, would you pass it on to RoSPA?
Paul Stollard: If we are doing investigations, they are rarely exemplaries because something has gone wrong.
Q73 Lindsay Roy: Even the proactive ones.
Paul Stollard: Proactive inspections?
Lindsay Roy: Yes.
Paul Stollard: From the inspection point of view, what we would encourage, then, is for the company we have been looking at to disseminate its message. Often a good way to do that is through their supply train. We would be asking them to talk to their suppliers and support them to do that so that it is passed down. That, we find, is quite a good method.
David Ashton: I think there was a major hazard dimension to the question, which we must answer, but I would also make the observation that, in characterising HSE, we are much more than a labour inspectorate. We use a wide range of techniques and we have a considerable number of staff who do something which, clumsily, you might call "operational policy", but they are staff who have lengthy professional experience as inspectors, front-line staff, but they are then put into different roles to work with sectors. We do not want them to advise as expert witnesses on bad practice because we have other staff with abilities to do that, and we are good at prosecuting where we find things bad enough to merit that. We want them to look at good and best practice wherever they can find it and capture it in the guidance that then finds its way on to our website and, from there, out to being a worldwide resource. We have, through the marvels of the web particularly, a very effective tool for promulgating lessons of good and best practice. In Great Britain, as a whole, including in all the industries, even in construction, we have some examples of that which are genuinely impressive and genuinely are world-leading in the standards that are achieved. It is important for us to find and broadcast those.
Q74 Lindsay Roy: What is difficult to capture is how the cultural change has occurred .
David Snowball: It is interesting in the offshore and the onshore major hazards field, in particular. Industry are often much more happy to share good practice when HSE acts as a kind of mediator or facilitator. They might not be happy to share individually with each other, but they are certainly happy to share in an HSE-facilitated context, if you like. I mentioned earlier on that one of the key things that we want to emphasise in the major hazards sector is the importance of strong leadership. One company in particular, Scottish Power, has given some very strong examples of how they have dealt with that, how they have taken serious industry challenges and shown through effective leadership and effective identification of leading indicators of performance that they can share that, and they are happy to do that. The general assumption is that industry that is happy to share is so confident in its ability to stay ahead of the game that it will do that. The ones that are not happy to share are, perhaps, the ones which are less confident in their own ability.
David Ashton: You can find strong and sincere leaders in quite small organisations as well. They are the fundamental lynchpin to success in any organisation. If you have a leader that is strong, sincere and committed to it, and takes good health and safety in the right spirit and in their stride, everything good can flow from that, or vice versa.
Chair: Fine. Thank you very much. We have very much appreciated your coming along to help the inquiry this afternoon.