The Department for Work and Pensions has appointed Susan Johnson, former chief executive of the Durham and Northern Business Forum, and previously a director of the food retailer Greggs, to the HSE board in one of three positions that have been reserved before for TUC nominees.
The tripartite structure of the HSE board (formerly the Health and Safety Commission), representing employee, employer and government interests, was provided for in the Health and Safety at Work Act. Section 2(3)(b) in Schedule 2 of the Act says the secretary of state "shall appoint three members after consulting such organisations representing employees as he considers appropriate".
A similar clause provides for three employer representatives among the total of up to 11 members.
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady attacked the appointment saying: "The government cannot appoint an employer to represent workers. It's a blatant abuse of rules that are there to ensure a fair balance between workers and bosses.
"The HSE works best when employers and unions work together as equal partners, as intended by the Health and Safety at Work Act. By rejecting the consensus approach, the government is sending out a dangerous signal to bad bosses who put staff at risk by cutting corners."
Johnson is a non-executive director of the Sports Ground Safety Authority and a commissioner with the Equality and Human Rights Commission. She replaces Sir Paul Kenny, former general secretary of the GMB general union, who leaves the board at the end of September. The two remaining employee representative members of the board are Jonathan Baume, former general secretary of the FDA civil service union and Kevin Rowan, head of organisation and services at the TUC. Baume's appointment in 2013 was also criticised by the TUC as it was made despite the congress's recommendation of another candidate, Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack.
In the first triennial review for the government of the HSE's work and functions in 2014, Martin Temple, since appointed as HSE chair, said the board needed a broader range of skills to help steer the regulator. Temple recommended a relaxation in the fixed numbers of employer and employee representatives if the DWP found it was "not possible to achieve the appropriate balance of skills/competences and required experience/background of HSE Board members and retain the current statutorily specified number of board members."
The government's response said it did not see a need to change the prescribed numbers of representatives, but the TUC argued that it has effectively done so now by appointing Johnson to one of the employee representative positions and that the decision "upsets the statutory balance of representation between workers and employers on the HSE board".