Toxic, Corrosive and Hazardous – the Government’s record on health and safety



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Cuts to the HSE

In 2010 the government announced that by 2014 the HSE would have had to reduce its budget by approximately £80–85m a year. This was a cut of around 35 per cent in the state contribution. However further cuts announced since then mean that the total reduction in the amount of government money will be in excess of 40 per cent.

To counter this, the HSE has attempted to increase external income fees and charges. If the HSE were to meet its target for external income, the reduction in overall budget from 2010 will be 13 per cent by 2014/15. Its last annual report (2012/13) shows that it is falling short of that by £6m, meaning that the overall reduction is likely to be greater.

One reason for the shortfall is the money received from a charging scheme called Fee for Intervention (FFI). In an attempt to make up some of the money, the HSE introduced a scheme that meant employers could be charged a fee for the HSE’s work in helping them sort out a problem where an inspector found a ‘material breach’ of the law. Although many people were against the principle of funding, they accepted the introduction of FFI as the lesser of two evils, given that it was anticipated that FFI would bring in around £17m in 2013/14 and £23m in 2014/15. Unfortunately, half way through its first year it had brought in well under half of the projected income.

This is clearly affecting the service that it provides, but it has also meant considerable staffing reductions. In April 2010, just before the election, the HSE employed 3,702 people: by December 2013 it had fallen to 2,769.

The HSE has itself admitted that funding cuts will lead to an increase in injury and ill health. In a consultation on FFI it stated that if it did not receive the increased money “the expected ‘lower level of enforcement’ would mean a consequent decrease in health and safety standards throughout Great Britain, with ensuing costs to society”.

There already appears to be an increase in injuries. Normally during a recession the rate of injuries decreases, but in both of the last two years there has been an increase in the number of non-fatal injuries that have lead to an absence of over seven days.

Increases in occupational diseases often take far longer to show up in statistics because the effects can take some time to show. However, the last government showed that, by tackling issues such as stress and musculoskeletal diseases, the levels can be reduced. In 2000 it set targets for reducing fatalities, injury and ill health over the next 10 years.

By 2010, fatalities had fallen by 22 per cent, the incidence of work-related ill health had fallen by 15 per cent and the number of days lost through work-related ill health had fallen by 20 per cent.

These gains are now in danger of being reversed as a result of the failure of the government to address health and safety issues, in particular occupational illnesses such as musculoskeletal disorders and stress.