HC Deb 20 December 1976 vol 923 cc265-93

3.7 a.m.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)

I rise to speak on the economic cost to the nation of industrial diseases and injuries. One problem that we have in discussing this subject is that in a true sense these costs are incalculable. There are certain figures which are known and can be quoted. For example, the last available figures show that in one year £211 million was paid out directly in benefits received on account of industrial diseases and injuries. The force with which families have been struck is shown by the fact that £23 million of that sum went in death benefit. That is a measure of the seriousness of the matter. All Members of Parliament in their own surgeries see many instances of lives broken as a result of industrial injuries, even where the sufferer has survived.

The latest figures also show that 15.3 million working days were lost. The consequential lost production must be enormous. As I say, it is not possible to give an exact figure, because this is something at which one can only hazard a guess. Lost production is not costed—the extra work which has to be undertaken and the loss of efficiency—because the lost working days do not represent the entire picture. People may be at work but considerably less efficient because they have suffered an accident and returned to work. Even an accident that is regarded as too trivial to merit time off may result in a great loss of efficiency.

I would contend that these figures alone, showing the direct effects of industrial injury and disease, indicate the depth of the problem facing the nation. Nobody can attempt to sayy that all these accidents and all these diseases are inevitable and unavoidable. Most of us would agree about the importance of proper working conditions, proper safety precautions and different attitudes to safety that are concerned with protecting workers by such means as protective clothing and, more importantly, by building safety into industrial processes.

No one can deny that these would greatly reduce the number of working days lost and the amount of money that is paid out in benefits, and the pain and distress suffered by everyone concerned. Parliament itself has clearly recognised this. When Parliament passed the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, introduced by this Labour Government, it included a section that empowered the Secretary of State to take a new initiative in this field by enabling workers to have safety representatives with legal standing.

Until now the main preventive agency and the main enforcement agency of safety laws have been the Factory Inspectorate. The problems facing factory inspectors can be understood by referring to figures that have been given by the Department of Employment stating the number of factory inspectors and the number of premises with which they have to deal. At the last count there were 663 general factory inspectors and 167 specialist inspectors, making a total of 830 factory inspectors.

Those inspectors have to deal with 209,573 premises under the Factories Act, 179,451 premises under the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act, plus all the construction sites in the country, of which the precise number is not known, plus all the new working places that had never before been covered by safety legislation, such as hospitals and educational establishments. In fact, the number of work places with which the Factory Inspectorate could be involved must number not far short of 1 million. Yet only 830 people carry this burden.

It is quite obvious that this is a superhuman task and that the full-time professional factory inspector can do no more than look at the worst excesses and the major hazards. To back them up with vast armies of experts in the form of worker safety representatives—people who are experts because they actually work at the job concerned—is a means of ensuring safety in the most economical and efficient manner possible.

When Parliament passed the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, we thought that that would be the case. The Factory Inspectorate itself thought so, too. I quote now from the report of the Chief Inspector of Factories for 1974, the latest report available. Discussing the new Act, the Chief Inspector said: The Act imposes a new and more extensive duty on employees to take care for their own safety and to co-operate with the employer. At the same time, it confers on them new and important rights in the matter of disclosure of information, the appointment of safety representatives and the establishment of safety committees. Unfortunately, the Chief Inspector was not quite right there. He was taking an optimistic view of the legislation, because the Act does not directly give employees the right to appoint safety representatives. It empowers the Secretary of State to lay regulations to give employees that right. But I can well undersetand why the Chief Inspector made that confident assertion in his report, since everyone, including Member of Parliament—certainly, all of us on the Government side—assumed that the regulations would be laid at the earliest practical moment.

The Chief Inspector continued: Whilst it is vital that employers clearly understand the practical consequences of their new duties, it is equally important that employees and their trade unions understand the importance of playing their part. They must accept the responsibility of the provisions of the new Act to make a much more positive contribution to occupational health and safety. Trade unionists throughout the country have taken those words to heart, and they have been making detailed and extensive preparations ready for the coming into force of regulations about safety representatives precisely so that they can play their full part and accept their new duties. The representations which are coming to me from constituents in Coventry, which is very much a manufacturing city, are that there is deep disappointment now among trade unionists because they are being deprived of the right to take a full share of respon- sibility. They want to do everything they can to achieve a safer working environment, and they want to have legal support and legal standing in so doing.

The Factory Inspectorate has been looking at and revising its own methods. Realising the colossal nature of the task before it and being aware of the increasing complexity of technology and growing daily use of dangerous substances, the Factory Inspectorate has appreciated that it will have to change some of its methods. In his paragraph on inspection policy, the Chief Inspector said: In the last few years inspectors have been encouraged to spend as much time as necessary in selected factories in order to carry out a more precise diagnosis of problem areas and to prescribe solutions". I ask the House to note those words "in selected factories". He said further: This flexible and selective approach to inspection is not without problems. Whereas previously the high-risk factory and those with low standards could be identified from personal know ledge, the new policy calls for more time to be spent in fewer factories, and, in consequence, it is more difficult for an inspector to select companies for in-depth investigation, due to the diminution of his knowledge of many companies in his area. That being so—I do not at this stage quarrel with that policy—it is even more important that those who have the in-depth knowledge because they are there every day carrying on the processes and working in the factories concerned should have the full backing of the law through the safety representative regulations, which would be the greatest preventive measure that we could possibly take.

The Chief Inspector also said, making it crystal clear that the factory inspectors now had to take that very selective view: Unless there is a serious hazard or the employer has already ignored previous approaches, the best and obvious first step and certainly that envisaged by the spirit of the new Act, is for the employee, where appropriate, through the trade union representative to put his concern initially direct to his employer. That is exactly what the safety representative system is supposed to be about. It is clear that when the report was ordered to be printed, in September 1975, the Chief Factory Inspector fully expected safety representative regulations to be in force quite soon.

What has happened? It is now more than two years since the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act went through the House. We were recently informed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the proposed regulations were to be deferred indefinitely on cost grounds—not on the ground that no agreement had been reached. The Health and Safety Commission was able to lay draft regulations before my right hon. Friend with the agreement of all sides of industry.

I tabled an Early-Day Motion in which I accused the Government of capitulating to the CBI and so causing the delay. That drew from the CBI a rather plaintive letter in which it made it clear that it, representing employers, was in agreement with the regulations. I am pleased to be able to place that on record. But it is also an unfortunate fact that what is true in theory at the heights of the CBI is not necessarily what happens on the factory floor.

Shop stewards in my area tell me that at factory level the story is not so rosy. If it were, the matter of the regulations would not be so urgent. But my shop stewards have been told by their employers that the whole question is in doubt. It is being said that it is a matter not of when the regulations come in. but if they come in. Although the CBI states that it is in favour of the regulations, in practice employers are not willing to operate the draft regulations until they have the force of law. That is a great pity. There is no law preventing them from operating the draft regulations, which have been published and which are known to everyone.

The shop stewards have taken great pains to prepare themselves. In my area they have gone to spectacular lengths to study the issues, holding regular meetings in their own time and bringing together workers from all the factories there, through the Coventry Health and Safety Movement. They are taking a serious attitude and they feel thwarted and frustrated by the fact that the Government, having gone so far, have now put the whole matter into limbo.

In some ways this gives us the worst of all worlds. We cannot tell trade unionists "Go ahead; just negotiate this with your employers", because we have made it a parliamentary matter. We have made it half way to being a law, and half way is a worse result than if we had never dabbled in it.

If we did not intend to go ahead with the regulations, it would have been far better to make that clear from the beginning. But we intended to go along with the regulations, and a further instance of that fact can be found by examining the First Report of the Advisory Committee on Major Hazards, which was produced during the summer. The committee is dealing with the hazards that are the most frightening, the most dramatic and, in some ways, the most difficult with which to deal. In making its report it stated: Safety representatives will have a special role to play in major hazard installations because in addition to their normal functions as outlined in the consultative document containing draft safety representative and safety committee regulations, they will be expected to take part actively in the formulation and application of additional controls which we suggest—for example, safety audits and emergency procedures. It is no use setting up the Advisory Committee on Major Hazards, having the committee study the problem and issue documents in which it clearly expects safety representative to be functioning in the near future, and then leaving it high and dry. Who will help now with the safety audits and the emergency procedure studies? The Government are preventing the proper operation of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act in many ways through delaying unduly the full operation of the enabling clause.

What does the Health and Safety Commission feel about it? It has stated loud and clear: We believe that the proposals we have made are essential to the full and effective implementation of the Act. It says: the credibility of the Commission will be undermined if the regulations are not laid.

The Government set up the Commission. Surely they cannot want to undermine the credibility of their own creation.

The Commission stated that during the discussion on the proposals the question of the cost of implementation was raised. It considered the comments very carefully and came to the conclusion that the initial cost would, in the longer term, be outweighed by the benefits ensuing from the improvements in health and safety which would flow from the proposals. In other words, these are cost-saving proposals. They are not merely expenditure. There is no extravagance involved. As my hon. Friend well knows because he gave the appropriate answer, the costs involved are minimal. They consist in giving paid time for training, for carrying out inspections and discussing what to do following the inspections. We shall not be creating full-time safety representatives with fancy wages. The whole objective is that they will continue to do their jobs. It is from that background that their main expertise will flow. The costs are minimal.

I understand that the sector that has expressed anxiety about cost is the public sector, especially local government. Most of the work places involved will not have been covered before by safety legislation. If a local council is asked how much it will cost, it will have to embark on sheer guess work. I think that "estimate" is too dignified a word. It is not possible to say how much the regulations will cost to implement. For example, no one knows how many safety representatives would need time off, because the matter is subject to negotiation. A great deal depends on exactly what is formulated in negotiations. I guess that everyone will be reasonable in work places where there is not a great hazard. I cannot envisage people queuing up thinking that this is an easy way to get some paid time to do something that it not necessary. Nobody knows, because the matter is subject to negotiation.

In answer to a Question my hon. Friend told me that the direct cost to local government and the public sector would be £55 million. That is no more than a guess. Even if it is an accurate guess, it is not too much to spend on better health and safety precautions. Many people working in the public sector—for instance, in universities—are worried. I have received strong representations, not only from shop stewards in factories, but from people working in universities. A serious accident occurred recently at the university in my constituency.

We should not delay promulgating the regulations because local authorities do not want to have a further statutory duty imposed upon them without extra resources to enable them to fulfil that extra duty. If more resources are needed to ensure health and safety at work, more resources must be found. I have some sympathy with local authorities, but it is monstrous if public expenditure constraints lead to elementary, far-reaching and sensible precautions being thwarted. We have waited for two years. How many more years do we have to wait? When shall we be able to afford proper provision to ensure health and safety?

Our purpose in raising the matter tonight is to argue that we cannot afford not to take all possible action to enhance health and safety at work. The losses resulting from unnecessary accidents and ill-health far outweigh the cost of enabling workers to play a full part in improving their work environment. No one but workers can do this satisfactorily.

Even an enlightened employer tends to see the issue in terms of muffling a worker against hazards or providing him with ear plugs. The worker will see the issue much more clearly and have a great incentive to persuade the employer that it is not the mask on the worker but the extractor on the machine that is the best method of preventing damage to health, that it is not ear muffs but the reduction of noise levels.

Unless the Government bring the regulations into force quickly, they will incur much acrimony, their reputation will be damaged, and they will throw away a great measure of good will and the chance to harness the expertise of trade unionists and their willingness to perform useful and constructive work in this regard.

I urge my hon. Friend, and through him the Government, to go ahead and lay these regulations before Parliament without further delay in order to cut the costs of industrial diseases and injuries.

3.35 a.m.

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

When, on 13th March 1974, I made my maiden speech in this House on the subject of industrial safety, honestly did not think that nearly three years later we should be engaged in this debate tonight. It is, quite frankly, to the shame and discredit of the Government that we are forced into this position.

My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) has illuminated the inadequacy of the present inspection system and the enforcement process of the Factory Inspectorate in terms of its numbers. I do not intend to repeat what my hon. Friend said. I wish to look at the examples of some of the workers who suffer from the accidents and industrial diseases and, at some of the resource cost to the nation, and to offer a couple of solutions.

It has first to be made abundantly clear that the working-class way of death in this country is to be a manual worker. When we look at the statistics contained in research reports, at the Registrar General's figures for deaths, at the various occupations and the reasons for death, it is apparent that what people do for a living largely determines the age at which they die. This is a great tragedy and a disgrace, bearing in mind that the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act has been on the statute book for more than two years.

I shall use what I admit are selective quotations from one or two reports to shame my hon. Friend the Minister, although I know that he does not bear personal responsibility, because the members of the Cabinet are the people really responsible for holding up the measure.

The first report to which I refer was published in 1971 by the National Institute of Industrial Psychology. It is a report on 2,000 accidents on the shop floor, together with a massive study of their causes by independent investigators. They came to four basic conclusions, which are extremely disturbing. They said that the risks of accident were so much an integral part of work systems as at present arranged, that the more work was done, the more accidents occurred". They said that people who changed tasks frequently had more accidents than those who did not change frequently". They also said that the highest accident rate on quickly repetitive tasks occurred towards the beginning of the period of the task and that people had to learn or re-learn in order to avoid the risks inherent in the job. Lastly, they said that serious accidents were often the result of an unusual situation". In essence the authors of the report, after examination of the numerous factors that might affect accidents, said that it is the work situation that is accident-prone, not the individual. This was a crucial conclusion to reach, bearing in mind that the report was published in 1971 and that a year later the Robens Committee in its report basically blamed apathy among the workers in industry as the reason for many industrial accidents, in flat contradiction of the 1971 report. The Robens Committee was not exactly loaded with people who had worked in manufacturing industry in the sense that I and my constituents would define the term. The Robens Committee clearly did not take account of the report of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology, otherwise it would not have come to the conclusion that it reached.

The facts concerning the way of death of British workers are starkly reported. The figures from the Registrar General are quoted in a book published early in 1974 by Patrick Kinnersly called "The Hazards of Work: How to Fight Them". I shall refer to this publication later, but it makes the point that furnace men face twice as many chances of dying from tuberculosis as Members of Parliament. Fishermen have three times as many chances of death from lung cancer as Members of Parliament, and their chances of dying from bronchitis are four or five times as great. I could go on and on, but these stark figures show that the working-class way of death is far more likely to strike the manual worker than someone who can lord it around on these Benches. These figures, which come from the Registrar General, show what people are doing when they die, and, quite frankly, it does not look too good for manual workers. They actually die at an earlier age as well.

A lot of work was done on this aspect by Frank Field, who is well known for his work among the low-paid and the poverty-stricken in this country. He published a pamphlet called "Unequal Britain" and did research into accidents at work. He made the point that accidents are a very important aspect of inequality at work—the unequal impact of accidents across the social classes, and the processes responsible for these accidents. Practically all fatal accidents occurred in occupations dominated by manual workers. One does not need to look too far to substantiate that. In the September issue of the Department of Employment Gazette, details of the accidents occuring at work in factories in the second quarter of 1976 are published. Ninety-one people died at work in factories in the second quarter, and there were 61,000 accidents.

This publication makes the point that those engaged in oil conversion, iron founding, vehicle repairing, heavy chemicals, the construction industry, bookmaking and stationery, and food processing were most at risk. Food processing seems a safe enough job, but the figures show that two people died in that safe industry in the second quarter of this year. All these are manual occupations; there is no section for white-collar workers or professional occupations. There is no section for Members of Parliament or managers. These figures tell a sorry tale.

Nevertheless, the people I have mentioned are not the only ones who suffer death and cause cost to families and a criminal loss in terms of family tragedy—maybe the loss of a breadwinner leading to a family needing to live on supplementary benefits, or the creation of yet another one-parent family. Manual workers have it bad both ways, because predominantly they are the only ones who work shifts. I know this from my own experience. On the night shift only a skeleton staff was kept on to see that the administrative side was running satisfactorily. It was on the shop floor that most of the night work was done.

Some work on accidents to shift workers is being done by the National Economic Development Organisation, which produced a report in 1973 on shift working in the motor industry. It is a very interesting report which makes many suggestions about the reasons for the quality of some vehicles not being good. NEDO examined three of the largest motor manufacturing plants in the country and found that there was a statistically significant increase in the rate of accidents per man hour on the night shift over the corresponding day shift. For obvious reasons the three plants were not named in the report, but I assume that they included the plant at Dagenham and the British Leyland plant at Long-bridge. One can only guess at the identity of the third plant.

Over the 11-year period from 1958 to 1969, 43 per cent. more accidents per man hour shift occurred at night than during the day. In plant No. 2, 61 per cent. more accidents took place on the night shift than on the day shift. In plant No. 3, 21 per cent. more reportable accidents took place on the night shift during the five years 1965 to 1971.

Workers need protection from criminal negligence by their employers. We must ensure that regulations provide that shift workers receive more than their fair share of cover, because they are more at risk than other manual workers. A fair amount of time in the motor industry is taken up by people running round dealing with accidents, providing first aid and so on. The position is no different now from what it was in 1973.

The terrifying thing is that no one actually knows how much industrial accidents, and diseases cost. The Department of Employment published a paper which analysed the resource costs to the country of the various industrial diseases and accidents, taking account of the cost of such expenses as doctors and ambulances. The analysis included Factory Inspectorate and Department of Health and Social Security data. The figures I shall quote are those for 1969, and hon. Members should remember that inflation will have doubled the cost then given.

In the appendix to the Robens Report, the DHSS said that the national resource cost was £335 million a year. The Factory Inspectorate's estimate was £133 million. The report stated that the figures were conservative. The DHSS said that the number of deaths attracting awards for industrial death benefit amounted to 1,918. The Factory Inspectorate said that 649 fatalities were reported under the Factories Act. It is commonly believed that between 500 and 600 workers die each year as a result of their work. The Factory Inspectorate is only one part of the reporting machinery since deaths must also be reported to bodies which are responsible, for example, for quarries, mines, shops, offices and construction sites. The figure of 649 does not compare with that of nearly 2,000 given by the DHSS. That means that people are dying as a result of industrial diseases many years after they have contracted them. They are dying as a result of industrial accidents but many years after receiving their injuries. They are dying at the rate of 40 a week.

Therefore, it is no good taking figures based on those of the Factory Inspectorate. We must go to the national insurance figures, because the national insurance administrators are the sticklers and they have all the information.

Furthermore, the Department of Employment, in the paper that used these figures, then looked at the non-reportable minor accidents. It said that the DHSS figures showed 841,000 per year reported accidents and spells of sickness and absence due to disease and injury, but it wanted to calculate the non-reportable minor accidents. It used a ratio of 1:30. On a figure of 841,000, it was estimated that there were 25 million accidents of an occupational nature in industry per year. The ratio of 1:30 was used, whereas the National Institute for Industrial Psychology, in the report to which I referred earlier, in its summary of 2,000 shop floor accidents, reckoned that we needed to use a ratio of 1:50 to obtain an accurate estimate of non-reported accidents. Nevertheless I shall settle for 1:30, which gives a figure of 25 million industrial accidents, injuries or diseases of some sort, reported or non-reported. That is a massive number.

We are at the beginning of a week. Based on the Factory Inspectorate figures for the second quarter of this year, accidents in factories are running at 1,000 per working day, or 5,000 a week. There will be 5,000 factory accidents before Christmas Eve. In Britain 5,000 families will have to cope with someone injured in an industrial accident in a factory before Christmas. That figure does not include all the other cases, but merely those in factories.

Deaths in factories were 91 in the second quarter of this year. That is seven a week. There will be seven more deaths in factories this week. Taking the DHSS figures of the number of people who are dying this week as a result of catching an industrial disease perhaps years ago or as a result of industrial injuries last week, last month or last year, one realises that such people are dying at the rate of 40 a week. Therefore, 33 more people will die this week, at home or in hospi- tal, as a result of industrial accidents or diseases. That is a total of 40 this week who will die by Christmas Day as a result of criminal negligence in industry, and at least 5,000 people will be injured in factories.

Apparently nothing can be done to stop that. Things could have been done some months ago to prevent it from happening if certain courses of action had been taken, as has been suggested. There are several solutions. One that comes to mind appeared in the Industrial Law Journal of September this year, in an article entitled Economic Deterrence and the Prevention of Industrial Accidents by Jenny Phillips of Wolfson College. shall quote one paragraph of her conclusions which rings a little bell in my mind. When I read the article, I thought "That is funny. I have heard the words before in a different context." The heading of the paragraph was Introducing economic incentives. It said: The evidence suggests that an approach to the improvement of safety based on the following two objectives would be effective. First, firms should pay the full costs of all work-related accidents"— I thought that I had heard that before; secondly, firms should be made aware of these costs. That rang another bell in another context. It is what the Chancellor wheeled out in the 22nd July measures in relation to road accidents, to make sure that the cost of road accidents to the National Health Service is recovered from motorists.

We shall be passing a Bill later in the Session to raise motor insurance premiums by about £3 per head to pay for the full cost of road accidents that falls on the NHS. Perhaps we could start by making sure that the total cost of what I consider to be criminal negligence by employers and which falls on the NHS is recoverable. If we had a similar Bill, I think that it would receive all-party support. It would certainly get the support of Labour Members. That is a suggestion that I shall pursue in line with the Government's present policy vis-à-vis the road accident situation, because it is a positive proposal and one that would bring home to industry the real costs of not taking industrial accident prevention seriously.

The other matter is the vast improvement in the number of safety representatives, whether they be statutory safety inspectors or factory inspectors in the conventional sense, which we shall not get although we were promised that their number would be doubled to 1,600. We want 200,000, which is what we shall get as a minimum of trade union-appointed safety representatives as laid down in legislation passed by this House during the past two years. That is an absolute "must".

My hon. Friend told the House that the CBI had said it was not to blame for the delays. It may be that it is not to blame, and perhaps local authorities are responsible for the delays, but it is fair to point out what the CBI said in its evidence to the Robens Committee. Volume 2 of the Robens Report, Selected Written Evidence, said at paragraph 1.40: The CBI has remained firmly opposed to the introduction of a legal requirement in this field and the exhaustive examinations which have occurred over the past decade has confirmed it in the rightness of its view. That was the CBI's evidence to the Robens Committee on the matter of statutory safety committees and statutory safety representatives on which the Health and Safety at Work etc Act was largely based; but it may be that the CBI has had a change of heart.

All this has taken a long time, because early in 1970 a Bill entitled Employed Persons Health and Safety Bill was introduced into this House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) when she was Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity. The Bill was introduced a little late, and in February it got bogged down in Committee. In May there was a General Election and the Bill fell, but that measure included the setting up of statutory trade union-appointed safety representatives. There were certain restrictions which were different from those that we have now, but the principle was there.

There was no vote on Second Reading. That does not mean that there was no opposition to the measure from Conservative Members. I have the Hansard quotations if they are required, but it is easier to quote from an article in The Guardian of Tuesday 15th January 1974 reviewing Patrick Kinnersly's book to which I have referred. The article made great play of one of the speeches that I read in Hansard in March 1974, that of the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) on Second Reading.

The article said: Resistance to joint safety committees has been ably led by Mr. Albert Costain, Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe. In a debate on the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill which would have given workers' safety representatives certain rights of inspection after an accident, he voiced the employers' old fear that committees would interfere with production. He said that the Bill would be 'a sea lawyer's paradise, giving wonderful opportunity to those who want to make trouble and disrupt our industries, where all strikes have failed'. He did not mention the wonderful opportunity to reduce the disruption to life caused by accidents, such as the bridge collapse on a Costain construction site near Dartford, Kent in March 1971 which killed a man. That was followed up in Professor Wedderburn's book "The Worker and the Law", which is still the standard textbook for most shop stewards who have to fight employers who will not tell them anything about their legal position. He made the point about the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill that the CBI insisted that voluntary methods were best, recalling that the Minister of Labour in 1966 pledged that the voluntary system would be given a chance to work before compulsion was introduced. The President of the National Federation of Building Trades Employers said the Bill would 'provide increased opportunities for disruptive elements to exploit new areas of industrial life'. The Bill lapsed with the General Election. Clearly, the CBI has apparently changed its spots. But it has had a long way to go. It has opposed the measures for statutory trade union-appointed or worker-appointed safety representatives. It was opposed to statutory committees.

The Robens Report concluded: We are in no doubt that the concept of employee safety representatives is more important than the concept of joint safety committees. That is a most important message to take on board. The Robens Report dismissed the CBI's evidence and submissions.

I want to give examples from Birmingham which demonstrate starkly why we need safety representative legislation as soon as possible. There are some firms with very good safety records compared with the average. One is Joseph Lucas. It has a first-class record in industrial safety compared with the rest of the engineering industry. When one sees the things that can go wrong in a firm with such a good record, it shows how bad things are in other firms.

In the Joseph Lucas annual report for 1976, the chairman said: Health and Safety Committees have been established with both staff and manual union representatives and environmental health and safety engineers have been appointed at all our major plants. It is regretted that despite all efforts the annual analysis of reportable accidents showed a small increase in the number per 1,000 employees, but the overall record continues to be twice as good as the national average for the engineering industry. I accept that. But let me give the figures at Joseph Lucas for accidents involving amputations. In 1971 there were 21, in 1972 there were 13, and in 1975 there were 11. The figures are falling. These accidents, however, occurred in a firm which has a better record than the average, and it is to its credit that it publishes such information to its employees.

The firm's report to its employees in 1975 said that its performance that year had not been as good as the previous year's. When, however, on 13th February, the shop stewards asked for the establishment of a health and safety library because, they said, they would need reference works and documents on important diseases and accidents so that they could study the remedies, they were told that the firm was waiting for the statute to be enacted and for the regulations to come into operation. Yet Joseph Lucas is a firm with a good safety record.

The shop stewards asked for 22 books; they have got four. One of the books asked for was Kinnersly's. They have not got it yet. The firm told them that it would not stock the library with political works. It is a very good book. It stands out as being written in simple language about industrial hazards and how to combat them before they start.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House referred to the book in 1974 when moving the Second Reading of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Bill. He said: I believe that … the Robens Report and Patrick Kinnersly's book should be taken together since they make an excellent intro- duction to the Bill."—[Official Report, 3rd April 1974; Vol. 871, c. 1289.] Yet Lucas tells its stewards that they cannot have the book because it is a political work. I hope that the firm gets its finger out and arranges for the library to be stocked instead of waiting for the regulations. Let the stewards continue to build on Lucas's very good safety record so that people such as myself will not be able to quote the bad attitude which goes with the good record. Attitudes are wrong. Employers who speak about "if" the regulations are introduced rather than when they are put into effect cast doubt on whether the Government intend to bring them into force.

British Leyland has the remarkable record of appearing in court in Birmingham twice in one day last week. One of the cases was not reported, but stewards on courses at the Aston University Department of Hygiene saw the firm get fined £250 for not providing safe methods of work after a man had fingers amputated in a power press.

Setters were allowed to work a press without guards because the flywheel could not be "barred over" as the bar would not fit into the hole in the flywheel, which was worn. The men used the "on/off" button to inch the arm down. One man worked the button and the other had his fingers and his head under the arm. One day the press stuck in the "on" position, down came the arm and off came the man's fingers. There were also accidents on two other adjoining presses.

Such accidents could have been avoided if someone had checked the presses, the holes in the flywheel and so on. I admit that the setters were crazy to work in that way, but insufficient care and attention was paid to the matter. Four hundred notices have now been put around the Castle Bromwich works, and the holes have been repaired so that the bars will fit without slipping, but this is long after a man's fingers have been amputated. British Leyland was fined only £250, but even this was an improvement on the average a few years ago when, if a man lost a hand, the firm was fined only £50.

In another court last Friday, British Leyland was fined £200 by the stipendiary magistrate after an accident at its Hay Hall Road factory at Tyseley when a lathe operator got his hand stuck round a chuck while it was working. He lost a finger and part of his thumb. He had been clearing a swarf with a bar which got caught in the chuck. His gloved hand caught in the hook at the end of the bar and his hand was dragged round the chuck. The firm said that it did not know that the job was being done that way and that instructions had been given that a new system should be used. The thumb is an important part of the anatomy. It is as important as the big toe and is worth a great deal of cash in national insurance terms.

As the largest motor company in the country, British Leyland should be littered with safety representative officers. A shop steward who has left to spend six months at the Aston University Hygiene Department has been given leave of absence, but it is unpaid. The man has a TOPS award from the Department of Employment. He is highly motivated, and I hope that the firm takes him back when he has finished his course.

Our largest factories have a better safety record than the smaller backstreet plants, but this shows how bad the average is and how urgent it is to get statutory representatives who can raise issues without fear of victimisation, losing their job or promotion prospects or missing out on overtime because they are acting on behalf of their fellow workers to ensure that the maiming and killing stops. There is a cheap way of doing this; we should make sure that workers are allowed to police the places where they work.

4.12 a.m.

Dr. Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock)

My hon. Friends have already referred to the costs of industrial injuries and accidents. The figures for recent years have been alarming. Benefits paid between April 1975 and March 1976 totalled £211 million and working days lost through industrial accidents and injuries between June 1974 and June 1975 totalled 15.3 million.

But these figures do not begin to touch the real cost of industrial accidents, injuries and diseases to this country. I wish to illustrate this by looking at a case which has involved a number of my constituents—the dispute at the Isle of Grain power station.

The dispute began in June over a small issue when a number of laggers involved in construction work demanded protective clothing because they were working with asbestos. Their employers, Babcock and Wilcox, refused to supply the clothing. The men pressed for it and later the Factory Inspectorate upheld their claim and the company was obliged to provide free protective clothing.

Because of that refusal, the men went on strike and were later dismissed. For the past six months, neither the employees of Babcock and Wilcox nor anyone else has been working on the site. Construction has been held up for more than six months.

The cost of that to the Central Electricity Generating Board has been extremely high, as has been the cost to the employees. Since they were described as being involved in an industrial dispute, they received neither unemployment pay nor social security for the whole period. Yet their complaint was perfectly justified and was upheld by the Factory Inspectorate.

What is extremely bothering about this dispute is that it means that work on the power station site has been stopped for many months. Work on constructing that site will probably not begin fully until the new year, when the site has eventually been made safe.

It is difficult to estimate the cost of a dispute like that, but the dispute arose simply out of a desire of the men to be properly and rightfully protected in the course of their work. Had there been safety representatives and a safety committee the matter would have been discussed and no doubt peacefully and easily resolved.

That is just one example. Obviously, many more cases must occur day by day, week by week, throughout the country. The time lost in discussion, strikes, bitterness and the souring of industrial relations all adds immensely to the cost of industrial production, and is perhaps one of the causes of our low rate of industrial productivity.

It is important to bear in mind costs of this kind when we are faced with the estimates that we have been given by local authorities and some public sector employers for introducing this type of legislation. The figure of £55 million per annum has been quoted. That figure might well have been plucked out of the air, because those who make the estimates have nothing on which to base them. There is, in fact, only one cost of health and safety at work which local authorities are in a position to assess, and that is simply the cost of accidents and diseases in terms of days lost through such accidents and diseases and the compensation that those authorities may have to pay out for them.

It would be valuable to have an estimate of these costs to local authorities and public sector employers, but none hase been provided so far. Perhaps my hon. Friend will be able to provide such figures now or in the future.

In an argument like this it is not enough just to weigh the most of accidents and diseases in monetary terms. We cannot estimate losses in human terms—in terms of bereavement, disablement, suffering and pain caused by some of the really vicious industrial diseases. We can no longer afford to regard the health and safety of workers as a kind of optional extra which, if employers in the private sector have sufficient profits or those in the public sector can find some money, can be provided by those employers if they choose. After all, it is not the employers' health and safety which are at risk; it is the health and safety of their employees.

What we have to do is to insist that this legislation is properly implemented as soon as possible—that safety representatives and safety committees are set up—because there is another important aspect to this matter. It is not just a matter of protecting the worker; it is also a matter of involving the worker in the very process of production and work at his place of work. It is an important extension of the responsibility of workers at this time. It would provide a way of involving workers in the planning and production of their work—and after all, they, more than anyone else, would have an incentive to ensure that this work was safely and therefore efficiently carried out, because it would be their own lives and health that were at risk.

When we consider what employers get away with—when the average fine for neglecting their employees' health and safety is £95—we begin to wonder what the Government and society really value. How can we consider the case of a man whose life hase been wrecked by some kind of industrial disease, or who has lost a limb at work? How can we consider the case of the woman who has lost her husband or the man who has lost his wife, and say that negligence is worth only £95? That is to make a mockery of the value of human life. It is not just a question of imposing very low fines for this kind of negligence. It is also a question of ignoring the fact that no employers have been gaoled for this kind of negligence.

If we find a man who is drunk when driving and who causes death or injury through that drunkenness, he is arrested and, if found guilty, he is imprisoned. Yet when an employer is negligent in a similar way he is not gaoled, even though this is possible under the Act. Instead, when it comes to the health and safety of so many workers throughout the country we tell employers that we shall only try to persuade them to consider the health and safety of workers properly, that we shall not impose this duty as an obligation with serious sanctions attached to it.

Too much has been lost for too long in terms of life and limb. The time has come to put a stop to this sort of carnage at work and to make sure that the legislation on safety representatives and safety committees is introduced immediately. There can be no further excuses.

4.22 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. John Grant)

My three hon. Friends the Members for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise), for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) have spoken this morning of their concern about the level of industrial accidents and diseases and the cost to the nation in terms of human suffering and the long-term social and economic damage of what is effectively an unnecessary by-product of industrial activity.

My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr in particular catalogued some graphic and damning situations, to which I know he does not expect me to reply in detail this morning, but I shall make two brief points. He mentioned the position of Members of Parliament and their health. One ought to say that those of us on the night shift at the moment do not think we are "lording it", although our conditions are rather better than those of most of the people that my hon. Friend was talking about.

My hon. Friend mentioned the question of fines for industrial safety offences. The Criminal Law Bill will raise the maximum fines substantially, from £400 to £1,000, with some possibility of inflation-proofing. Of course, it is really up to the magistrates to use these fines appropriately. The evidence suggests that they have not always done so in the past.

Mrs. Wise

On that point, no doubt my hon. Friend is aware that conviction on indictment at present carries an unlimited fine, yet the maximum fine so far imposed is still £400.

Mr. Grant

I can only hope that, now that the maximum level is to be raised substantially, magistrates will impose what I frequently feel, and what I am sure my hon. Friends feel, would be more appropriate fines in these very grave situations.

All three of my hon. Friends referred to the inadequacy of statistical information on accidents and occupational diseases and the difficulty of making reliable estimates of the true costs. Their general concern about the whole situation has been coupled with expressions of deep distaste at the Government's decision not to bring into force for the time being the Health and Safety Commission's proposed regulations, on safety representatives and safety committees.

It has been suggested that we have allowed exaggerated estimates of the cost of introducing the regulations in the public sector to influence us unduly, that we have overlooked that the initial cost would in the longer term be outweighed by the benefits and economies from improvements in health and safety that would flow from the proposals, and that by our decision we have, in effect, undermined the intent and purpose of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and so impeded progress towards the development of a healthier and safer working environment. I think that that sums up the main criticisms made by my hon. Friends, and I shall do my best to answer them and explain the Government's attitude.

First, I assure my hon. Friends and the House that the Government share their concern about the incidence and cost of industrial accidents and diseases. No one can rest content with a situation in which about 350,000 accidents, including 600 to 700 fatalities, are being reported annually to the various authorities responsible for enforcing our health and safety legislation, in which we are spending about £210 million a year on industrial injury benefit under our social security system, and in which we are losing over 15 million working days annually through incapacity.

The true costs of industrial accidents and their consequent toll of death, injury and disablement are, as my hon. Friends have said, incalculable. One has only to think of the full costs of lost production. Here I take the point made my my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock about the Isle of Grain and the effect on industrial relations. One has to weigh the costs of lost production and of replenishing the work force and replacing damaged plant and equipment, as well as the burden on the National Health Service.

All these factors cannot be accurately calculated from the data we have available of the number of accidents and the incidence of occupational disease or from the volume of claims met annually through the Industrial Injuries Scheme or through compensation payments by the private insurance sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr underlined that point, and he had obviously done some great homework in producing some formidable figures and evidence of his own.

The Robens Committee on Health and Safety at Work had in evidence a good many estimates of total costs, ranging between £200 million and £900 million annually, and it drew attention to many of the problems involved in making any reliable estimate of the cost to the nation of occupational accidents and diseases.

There are no easy solutions, but I should point out that action is being taken by the Health and Safety Commission with a view to improving our sources of information about the number of accidents and our ability to measure and assess safety performance. Proposals for new regulations which will rationalise the existing arrangements for the reporting of accidents and extend the system to all sectors of employment are now under consideration in the light of the many comments received on the consultative document issued earlier this year.

I turn now to the main issue and the nub of the argument advanced by my hon. Friends—that is, the desire of the trade unions to play a full part in developing and improving the standards of health and safety at work, and the importance which they attach to the Commission's proposed regulations on safety representatives and safety committees. I fully understand that desire. I share the trade unions' view, and I am well aware of the acute disappointment which has been caused by our decision not to bring the regulations into force for the time being.

I understand the strong feelings on this subject, especially within the trade unions, and I recognise their concern for the social contract, of which they believe this to be an integral part. Also, I well know of the preparations which the trade unions have in many cases made for the introduction of the regulations.

I assure my hon. Friends that the Government's decision was not taken lightly or without considering the longer-term benefits which should accrue from implementation of the regulations. If they had been implemented immediately, however, there would have been an increasing cost to employers at a time when the Government are reluctant to impose additional burdens on them. We have to be concerned also about the immediate cost to the local authorities, and the Government consider that it would be unreasonable to expect them to implement the regulations at a time when we are pressing them to cut expenditure in other sectors.

Dr. McDonald

My hon. Friend has mentioned the Government's anxiety not to place further cost burdens on employers, yet two weeks ago we passed the National Insurance Surcharge Bill, which did precisely that.

Mr. Grant

I take my hon. Friend's point, but it does not invalidate the case for not putting still further burdens on employers at present.

There have been suggestions that the cost estimates have been unrealistic. Some of the figures bandied about at the beginning of the whole debate on the matter—I do not mean this morning's debate—were hard to swallow. It is difficult to produce precise estimates. A good deal depends on the view of how active safety representatives and committees would be. We think, however, that the cost would be considerable, and, regretfully, we are having to restrict public expenditure in the interests of our short-term economic needs.

Despite that, we are giving urgent further consideration to the whole issue in the light of the many representations. Since my right hon. Friend's announcement we have had discussions with the TUC and the Health and Safety Commission. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West was very graceful in her reference to the CBI. In fairness, I should say that, whatever the CBI said about the matter in the past, it has made clear that it is in favour of full implementation of the regulations. The TUC and CBI representatives on the Commission have presented the Government with a united view on the issue. It is a Commission view, and it is to their mutual credit that they have been able to reach this agreement.

There has been some suggestion that the regulations are too vague and open-ended in that they give representatives the power to inspect premises more often than the degree of danger might justify. It has also been suggested that we might initially confine the application of the regulations to those areas, such as factories, which are generally accepted to be the most dangerous. The Commission has told us that such regulations, which are intended to cover a great variety of situations, cannot be too precise and that it is preferable to provide a framework in which employers and workers can work out in joint consultation what arrangements are best for their circumstances.

The Commission has pointed out, too, that dangerous processes are not confined to areas of employment which could be readily defined in regulations and that difficulties could arise for employers and unions if the regulations covered some people in a particular workplace and not others. We have considered these aspects in our further consideration of the proposals. We must be mindful of the Commission's views.

Mrs. Wise

Do the Government accept those views, which seem to be reasonable and correct?

Mr. Grant

We are very mindful of the Commission's views. This is yet another matter that is very much under consideration within the context of our overall consideration of how we might move further on the issue.

It has not been said too strongly this morning, but there have been suggestions that by the decision we are undermining the whole purpose of the Act, which extended the protection of health and safety legislation to about 8 million employees who were not previously covered and constituted a great step forward. I must refute those suggestions. The Government retain their determination to support the Commission in implementing and enforcing the provisions of the Act and the promotion of positive health and safety attitudes.

Mr. Rooker

I hate to make a cheap party point, but the Act is a Tory Act. The only change we made after the February 1974 General Election was to put in the trade union and worker safety representatives and the statutory committees. We had the problem over the Liberal amendment, a matter which we did not win when we were not a majority Government but which we corrected in the Employment Protection Act. The present Act is basically the same as that published in January 1974. The Government cannot claim great credit for it because it was presented, without any disagreement, by the previous Conservative Government. We are asking for the injection of the Labour bit into the Act.

Mr. Grant

I am conscious of that for which my hon. Friends are asking. Indeed, it is that with which I am endeavouring to deal. Even though we are determined to support the Commission in implementing the provisions of the Act, this does not mean that every set of legislative proposals that the Com- mission puts forward has to be accepted in its entirety and implemented immediately. It has to be for the Government to decide in the whole of their legislative programme and commitments how and when such proposals should be implemented.

We have to take a realistic if sometimes unpalatable view. In the present circumstances, in which we have an immediate need to restrict public expenditure to try to cut the rate of inflation and improve our general economic position, it is worth recognising, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr has just said, how much has been achieved by the Commission and the Executive. I shall spend a few brief moments analysing what has been done.

First, I must mention the high priority that has been given to the establishment of a network of advisory committees to provide a focus for continuous discussion between the major interests involved and to make expert advice available to the Commission as well as securing the effective participation of employer organisations and the trade unions in the creation of safe systems of work. Already a number of committees have been established to advise on particular hazards across the whole spectrum of employment. Among them is the Advisory Committee on Major Hazards, the Advisory Committee on Asbestos and a new medical advisory committee.

The Advisory Committee on Major Hazards has recently produced its first report, which deals with the control and siting of installations that could present a major threat to the safety of employees and the general public from explosion, a sudden release of toxic substances, or fire. The report's recommendations are now being considered by the Commission and comments on the proposals are being sought from a number of interested organisations. In addition, in a major effort towards developing positive attitudes from shop floor to senior management, the Commission is looking to the development of industry advisory committees, which have already been set up in agriculture and in the nuclear sector. It is intended to extend the committees to a further 20 major industries.

Perhaps I should mention some other advancements. There are proposals for regulations and codes of practice on a variety of subjects, including the packaging and labelling of dangerous substances, measures to reduce the exposure of employed persons to noise, controls over projects including, for example, research into the measurement and control of respirable dust, the prevention of explosions and the protection of workpeople against injury from moving machinery. All these matters are under way and various pilot studies are in progress to identify new and different problems to be faced in various sectors of employment not previously covered by legislation, such as hospitals, education, health services, water supply, local authority and leisure activities.

There is plenty going on at the moment, including the planned increase of the Factory Inspectorate, which is going ahead according to schedule. There is a great deal to do apart from the establishment of safety representatives and safety committees.

We accept unequivocally the desirability of making the regulations so soon as possible. As I have said, we are already examining further possibilities and further ways of doing so. Despite the inescapable public spending constraints, that remains a live issue on which final decisions have yet to be made. We shall take careful note of what my hon. Friends have said today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West said that some shop stewards have been saying to her that it is a question no longer of "when" but "if", but it is still the case that the question is not "if" but "when". I hope that the further consideration which we are urgently giving will find a reasonable and sensible way of resolving the problem.

Forward to