“Dissapearing Inspectors Can’t Enforce safety”

15 Nov 2008

Disappearing inspectors can’t enforce safety
The dwindling band of frontline Health and Safety Executive inspectors do not have the capacity to properly enforce criminal safety law, a new report has concluded. ‘Where is the justice?’, an analysis published this week in the trade union health and safety magazine Hazards, reveals: ‘In 2004, HSE had 1,483 ‘operational frontline inspectors’. This number fell year on year, until by April 2008 the watchdog has just 1,238 inspectors on the workplace beat, a fall of over 17 per cent from 852 to 706.’ The drop in numbers of factory and agricultural inspectors, offshore inspectors and quarry inspectors was more dramatic still. Frontline inspection cover fell in every sector enforced by HSE, the report said. At the same time the number of offences prosecuted had fallen year on year, while the overall workplace death rate had not fallen. In 2003/04, HSE prosecuted 1,720 offences, this falling to just 1,028 according to the latest provision figures - which are expected to drop still further when the final tally is announced. Describing a ‘growing corporate accountability deficit’, the report says every key HSE enforcement measure - prosecutions, convictions and enforcement notices - fell last year. According to Hazards magazine: ‘Several factors have left the beleaguered watchdog with little room for improvement. It has far fewer inspectors to do the gruntwork, far more workplaces to inspect and a government intent on less enforcement activity in fewer places.’ It adds that HSE’s new strategy, to be launched next month, ‘will not be an ambitious blueprint for better enforced, more safe and more just workplaces. It will be linguistic acrobatics, presenting a neutered watchdog as still relevant.’