Health and Safety in Scotland

Written evidence submitted by the Society Chief Officers of Environmental Health Officers in Scotland (SOCOEH)

 

The Society represents the chief officers and senior managers of environmental health in the 32 Unitary Scottish Local Authorities. The role of the Society is to promote good management practice and effective and efficient delivery of environmental health services; act as a voice for the local authority environmental health service in Scotland; and, provide professional advice to COSLA, Scottish Government and other Government Departments and Agencies.

Executive Summary

· Local Authorities are key partners with HSE in the enforcement of health and safety legislation and delivering the HSE strategy9 in Scotland. Local authority (LA) responsibilities cover premises employing nearly half of the Scottish working population. Occupational Health & Safety enforcement whether by HSE or local authorities is an important contributor to local community safety, well-being and public health outcomes.

· The UK Government has announced reforms to the health and safety system5. Local authorities have serious concerns about the impact of the proposed reduction in pro-active inspections and introduction of cost recovery. The planned changes risk lower health & safety outcomes in local communities and loss of the positive relationships that have been developed between local authorities and local businesses.

· The H&S reform paper raises more fundamental questions about the deployment of public resources to improve occupational health and safety outcomes. The latest announcements mean that targeting of premises and interventions by LAs and HSE is likely to move further apart (so called "twin peaks"). This requires more detailed examination in terms of the available premises data, the division of HSE & LA enforcement boundaries, and the availability of both HSE and Local Authority resources to better target risk.

Role of Local Authorities as Co- regulators in Health & Safety Enforcement

1. Local Authorities (LAs) are responsible for enforcement of health a nd safety in some 100,000 workplaces 1 , employing 45 % 2 of the working population in Scotland. The HSE is responsible for the remainder. Every local authority has a statutory duty under Section 18 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to ensure it makes adequate provision for health and safety enforcement in its area. The split of enforcement responsibility between LAs and HSE is defined in the enforcing authority regulations (1998) as illustrated in appendix A.

2. The delivery of this LA responsibility is achieved by trained and authorised Environmental Health professionals carrying out:

· Programmed Health and Safety inspections in accordance with a predetermined risk based inspection programme.

· Compliance visits to premises at the request of other Local Authority departments and statutory bodies.

· Investigation of complaints received relating to workplace health, safety and welfare issues.

· Investigation of serious workplace accidents, dangerous occurrences and cases of occupational disease.

· Observations relating to H&S when carrying out other regulatory activities such as food hygiene or licensing inspections

3. There are around 300 authorised LA officers working on health and safety enforcement in Scotland but because many are working in a number of other work areas ( eg food safety) this equates to about 100 full time equivalent posts or 1 officer per 1000 premises1.

4. In carrying out these duties, Environmental Health services aim to provide a consistent and proportionate approach working to agreed enforcement policies and HSE guidance.

5. This work is facilitated by well established partnership liaison arrangements between local authorities and HSE at both a Scottish and wider Great Britain level – as detailed in appendix A.

Impact on Business

6. Local authorities actively support their business communities through their wider responsibilities e.g. Food Safety, Licensing, Environmental Protection, Public Health etc. Health and safety work is often carried out at the same time as engagement with business in these other areas. This multifunctional support is an effective and efficient way for Environmental Health Services to help deliver wider community safety, well-being and public health outcomes in local authority areas. It is also in keeping with local outcomes of promoting and encouraging local business.

7. Many services are providing innovative approaches tailored to local circumstances and available resources. There is much evidence3,4 supporting this approach and the assisting and advisory role is particularly valued by business, yet it is this which could be the most under threat5 from spending pressures on LAs and the proposed health and safety reforms.

Reforms to the health and safety system in the UK

8. In March 2011, the Minister for Employment published "Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone" (DWP 2011)6 this is a development of aspects of the Lord Young report (2010)6 and outlines further major reform, particularly in the approach to implementing health & safety legislation. These reforms have implications for Scotland’s local authorities and their Environmental Health Services as well as HSE.

9. In particular, the DWP report outlines a "new" health and safety framework setting out a new pattern of enforcement to the way local authorities and the HSE approach business compliance. The framework acknowledges that the HSE and local authorities, as joint co-regulators for health and safety legislation, have a vital role to play in ensuring that the regulatory system:

· is focused on better health and safety outcomes and not purely technical breaches of the law;

· makes it as straightforward as possible for business, and in particular, small businesses, to deliver a health y and safe working environment;

· is enforced in a manner which is proportionate to risk;

· avoids placing unnecessary burdens on businesses which manage health and safety effectively; and

· maintains a strong deterrent against those who fail to meet their health and safety obligations and put their employees at material risk thereby also deriving an unfair competitive advantage.

10. The framework states that HSE will largely continue its current regulatory approach with major hazard industries but for non-major hazard industries HSE will significantly change its approach to the totality of businesses it regulates by:

· using alternative interventions such as increasing joint initiatives with industry to promote safe and healthy workplaces;

· targeting inspections more effectively and substantially reducing the overall number of proactive inspections by one third (a reduction of 11000 inspections UK wide); and

· introducing the recovery of HSE costs from businesses ("fee for intervention ") e.g. recovery of the costs of an inspection/investigation at which a serious, material breach in standards is diagnosed and a requirement to rectify is formally made, together with the cost of any follow-up work.

11. The UK Government is also looking to apply the framework principles to local authorities including reducing the number of pro-active inspections carried out by Environmental Health Services by a third (approx 60,000 across the UK, 5000 in Scotland). It is not clear how this UK government objective will be achieved in Scotland. It is understood that the Scottish Government Minister for Public Health has written to the DWP expressing concern about the proposals and also advising that local government activity is devolved and that consultation should take place with COSLA.

Targeting HSE and Local Authorities resources – "Twin Peaks"

12. The Better Regulation Executive report8 on the health and safety regime published in 2008 identified the need to address the skew in regulatory targeting. This is known as, the so-called ‘twin peaks’ effect (see diagram 1), where higher risk sectors are inspected periodically by HSE inspectors, and lower risk premises by local authority inspectors. In between these "peaks", there is a misalignment of regulatory resource for medium risk premises (e.g. motor vehicle repair, High Street printers, small-scale construction) that are receiving little or no interventions from any enforcement body to improve the health and safety – most of these businesses are the responsibility of HSE.

Diagram 1 "Twin Peaks"

13. The split of premises between HSE and local authorities is determined by statutory regulations. Although these allow some scope for limited transfer of premises between the two organizations by local agreement, the regulations could be considered to constrain more flexible working between HSE and LAs and the most effective deployment of limited resources. Further research is required to evaluate the full extent of the "twin peaks" in Scotland, including workplace activities should be risk rated in a standard manner across both the HSE and local authorities to provide risk data which can be used in best targeting limited resources.

14. With the proposed reduction in the number of pro-active inspections by HSE by a third and encouragement to local authorities to similarly reduce their pro-active inspection of premises for health and safety, there is concern that the "twin peaks" will drift further apart. There is strong evidence that appropriate interventions, including inspections are a positive driver to improving health and safety outcomes. (see appendix B).

15. Although it is the preference of many local authorities for a formal transfer of premises, it appears that there is no appetite in the UK government for a review of the current enforcing authority regulations, so any changes to working with HSE across enforcement boundaries would probably need to be achieved by local agreement in Scotland however this risks a less co-ordinated approach.

16. It is recognised that at a time of public sector spending constraint, best use of available resources across both HSE and Local Authorities to improve occupational health and safety in Scotland’s communities will involve a range of interventions based on risk evaluation including inspections, formal enforcement, provision of information and guidance etc. There may also be scope for developing flexible warranting arrangements between local authorities and HSE so that staff from either enforcement group can undertake appropriate interventions in local premises across the current enforcement boundaries.

17. In taking forward this approach it is also recognised that Scotland’s local authorities differ in size and character and what is appropriate in an Island Council may not be feasible in for example a large city or vice versa. In addition the resource implications for local authorities of any changes will require careful consideration.

18. SOCOEH has expressed a commitment to try to address the "Twin Peaks", with a desired outcome to use both HSE and local authority resources to better target risk, unconstrained by current enforcement boundaries and traditional ways of working. A draft position statement has been developed to seek political support for improved targeting of resources and as a framework for further developing partnership working with HSE. This statement is detailed in appendix B.

Conclusions

 

19. There are two key drivers for the proposed health and safety system changes: reducing regulatory burdens on business and public sector spending cuts.

20. The broad enforcement principles set out in the health & safety system framework (paragraph 9 above) are supported but are not particularly "new". Indeed, Environmental Health services already carry out their work in line with these principles e.g. target their resources according to risk evaluation. But, the implications of the spending cuts, particularly on HSE, mean that there will be a significant reduction in pro-active inspections in Scotland and reduced support for local businesses, replaced in part by alternative interventions. There is also concern that a reduction of direct health & safety interventions may result in lower health & safety outcomes in local communities and some loss of the positive relationships that have been developed between local authorities and their local businesses. Occupational Health & Safety enforcement whether by HSE or local authorities is an important contributor to local community safety, well-being and public health outcomes.

21. Details of the proposed "fee for intervention" charging scheme are awaited, but local authorities are being encouraged to introduce a similar charging scheme. However there are clear concerns about its implications and applicability to local authorities. It is anticipated that introducing such a scheme would have costs and bureaucracy for administering it, and it would lead to a change in culture/ relationship between inspecting officers and duty holders. While there is the possibility of some cost recovery to offset budgets, it is uncertain whether the potential income from charging would be worthwhile for local authorities. HSE look to be going ahead with this scheme in relation to their enforcement responsibilities. Whether local authorities will be required to implement this is uncertain and opens the prospect of a two tier enforcement system if there is limited or no take up by local authorities.

22. The H&S reform paper raises more fundamental questions about the deployment of public resources to improve occupational health and safety outcomes. The latest announcements mean that targeting of premises and interventions by LAs and HSE is likely to move further apart (so called "twin peaks"). This requires more detailed examination in terms of the available premises data, the division of HSE & LA enforcement boundaries, and the availability of both HSE and Local Authority resources to better target risk. There are potential opportunities to develop partnership working between HSE and local authorities to improve health and safety outcomes for Scotland as outlined in appendix B. This is not straightforward and in particular it is recognised that this will require detailed evaluation of resource implications for local authorities.

References

1 HSE Enforcement Statistics 2009/10 LAE 1 returns www.HSE.gov.uk

2 National Audit Office, (2011) The Health and Safety Executive’s work in Scotland http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmscotaf/writev/health/health.pdf

3 Reducing Business Burdens: Effective Enforcement – Hampton Review (2005) http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file22988.pdf

4 Business perceptions of local authority regulatory services (2008)   http://www.lbro.org.uk/docs/survey-of-business-perceptions.pdf

5 Regulatory Review Group Annual Report 2010 in Scotland http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/917/0105205.pdf

6 Good Health & Safety, Good for Everyone. Department Work & Pensions(2011) http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/good-health-and-safety.pdf

7 Common Sense, Common safety. Lord Young , Cabinet Office (2010) http://www.number10.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/402906_CommonSense_acc.pdf

8 Better Regulation Executive (BRE) (2008) Improving Outcomes for Health and Safety http://www.bis.gov.uk/files/file47324.pdf

9 HSE Strategy : The Health & Safety of Great Britain : Be part of the solution (2009) http://www.hse.gov.uk/strategy/index.htm

June 2011

Prepared 6th July 2011