MPs recommend extending FFI to local authority inspectors
Wednesday 15th August 2018
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health's latest report notes that FFI, which allows the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to charge dutyholders £129 an hour for work to notify them of material breaches found during inspections, has "proven effective in achieving the overarching policy aim of shifting the cost of health and safety regulation from the public purse to those businesses that break health and safety laws".
The report says cuts in council spending on public services since 2010 have been matched by a significant decline in OSH enforcement by councils. The number of proactive inspections by LA environmental health officers (EHOs) fell by 97% between 2010 and 2016. These had not been replaced by reactive inspections -- responding to statutory notification of breaches -- and the total number of inspections and other interventions by council inspectors fell by 65% over the period. Enforcement notices issued by EHOs have declined by 64%.
Apart from budget cuts, which have seen the number of EHOs almost halve to 543 in the 380 district and unitary authorities in Great Britain over the past seven years, another reason for the fall in inspections, the group argues, is that the HSE now steers LA enforcement activity. The 2011 LÃ¶fstedt review of OSH legislation and enforcement led to the introduction of a code drawn up by the HSE, which requires that LAs only make proactive inspections under very limited circumstances.
However, the all-party group argues that the code has failed to achieve the consistency in enforcement it intended. The group endorses a more risk-based approach to inspections but adds that the code has failed to see the riskiest workplaces targeted in local authority-regulated sectors, which include retail space and offices and cover two-thirds of workplaces and half the national workforce.
The group recommends that the code be revised so councils can carry out a proactive visit of all new premises or enterprises in their areas at the earliest opportunity to provide guidance on how to operate safely and legally.
The parliamentarians note that the inspection priorities set for LAs by the HSE under the code are more aimed at injury prevention than tackling occupational health issues, even though health problems are more likely to lead to sickness absence or long-term incapacity.
They add that current HSE advice to LAs on prioritising and targeting interventions fails to mention work-related stress and barely references musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), even though MSDs are responsible for two-thirds of sickness absence in LA-enforced sectors.
The all-party group does not agree that enforcement should be in the hands of one body -- the HSE, as LAs can offer new insights into enforcement issues and are more likely to be responsive to local circumstances.
However, the parliamentarians do recognise the current split in responsibilities does cause confusion and offer some recommendations to avoid the duplication of LA and HSE OSH enforcement in some areas.
They recommend that either no enterprise has more than one regulator or that the HSE looks at greater use of flexible warranting to allow HSE and LA inspectors to exercise their powers in each other's spheres of activity.
The parliamentarians recommend that the HSE should provide a better framework for consistency of approach in how the primary authority scheme works and ensure greater scrutiny of its operation.