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



Download The Government record on H&S [PDF]

HSE independence

The HSE is run by a chief executive overseen by a board of people called non-executive directors and a chair. These are appointed by the Secretary of State. The law says that in the case of three board members these appointments must be made after consultations with organisations representing workers, and another three should be made after consultation with employer organisations. This was because, when the Health and Safety at Work Act was introduced in 1974, the principle behind it was that health and safety was a workplace issue that was best dealt with jointly between workers and employers. Hence a commission was set up with six people representing workers and employers. This has served the HSE well. In 2008, the commission was replaced by a board, but the principle of worker and employer representation was retained.

This meant that the HSE board retained links with the workplace and had an element of independence from government. However, the final say on regulation was with the Secretary of State, who could instruct the board.

That is now under threat. In 2013, without consulting the TUC, the government appointed a person to represent ‘workers’ interests’. The TUC had nominated a high-profile trade unionist who had years of experience in safety. Instead it appointed someone who was retired and had no current links with the unions or the workplace. At present, almost all the members of the HSE board are retired or now working as a consultant, with only the two remaining TUC nominations being still strongly connected to the world of work and able to represent the interests of those affected by health and safety regulation.

In 2014, the Temple Review into the HSE stressed the importance of tripartitism (workers, employers and government working together) and recommended that there be no change in the current structure. It did, however, recommend a ‘skills review’. The government, however, did not accept this part of the report and may make its own proposals. Meanwhile a skills audit is taking place.

The HSE has a respected and effective chair, but it also needs a strong, independent board made up of people who know the world of work and are able and willing to defend health and safety in the workplace.

In addition, the HSE needs leadership from a chief executive. In August 2013, the chief executive retired and the process of replacing him started that same summer. In December, the post having been advertised and interviews taken place, the government seemed to stop the process. Instead the post is to be re-advertised, with more emphasis on commercialisation and business experience. As a result of the interference by government in the process at the final stages the HSE remains without a chief executive.