HC Deb 17 February 1976 vol 905 cc1103-6
1. Mrs. Wise

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the operation of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment(Mr. Harold Walker)

I shall be satisfied with the operation of the Act when I am sure that all people at work—employers, employees and the self-employed—are taking all necessary measures for their own and others' health and safety.

Mrs. Wise

Will my hon. Friend reflect on the deterrent effect of a level of fines averaging £95 for successful prosecutions under the Act? Is he aware that in my constituency an accident took place recently, involving death which was caused by the employer's negligence, and that a fine of £200 was imposed? In addition, GEC—it was not GEC in the instance to which I first referred—was fined £300 on six serious summonses. Will my hon. Friend contrast that——

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Walker

I understand the disquiet of my hon. Friend. We are not responsible for the decision of the courts. The Act provides for unlimited fines on indictment as well as imprisonment for some offences. As I have said, I share the disquiet of my hon. Friend about the level of penalties imposed by the courts. I hope that the courts will heed the remarks made in the house.

Mr. Madel

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with the way in which companies are providing a written statement of health and safety policy to all their employees? Has the Health and Safety Commission had to remind many firms of this obligation under the Act?

Mr. Walker

This is one feature of the Act to which there has been a good response. Companies have got down to the task of preparing written statements and in many cases have published them. The Health and Safety Commission has produced guidance on what a written statement should contain. A feature of many of the statements that has caused me much anxiety is that they tend to over-emphasise the responsibilities of the employee and to underplay the responsibilities of the employer. I hope that we shall see a better balance in some of the statements when they are revised.

Mr. Bates

What is the full establishment of the Health and Safety Inspectorate, and is it yet filled? If not, what progress is being made towards filling it?

Mr. Walker

Without notice, I cannot give the full figures. The latest information is that 819 inspectors are in post in the Factory Inspectorate. That represents a 12 per cent. to 14 per cent. increase on the numbers in post when the health and safety at work legislation came before Parliament. We are keeping up to date with the proposed expansion of the inspectorate. We are pretty well on target.

7. Mr. Small

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will now extend the scope of the Health and Safety at Work Act to cover offshore installations and activities and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Harold Walker

This question is at present receiving urgent attention by the Government and it is hoped that a statement will be made shortly.

Mr. Small

I would not call that a five-star answer. Does my hon. Friend recall the public indignation—indeed, the wave of indignation—in the trade union movement over the lack of health and safety provisions concerning our offshore installations and in the new technologies? It was thought necessary in 1974 to set up the inter-departmental study group. The study was a long time ago in history, and a week is a long time in politics. I should like an answer. I do not want to table the Question a second time. I am looking for action.

Mr. Walker

My hon. Friend is right to be impatient. This is a serious matter. I hope that he will have the chance to table a Question in the near future, in response to which I hope to be able to give him a five-star answer.

Mr. Henderson

Is the Minister aware that there is concern on both sides of the House about the lack of rights possessed by the people working on offshore installations? Indeed, some of my constituents have been dismissed under incredible circumstances after suffering injuries, and are apparently no longer able to work. When will the Government get their finger out and do something about it?

Mr. Walker

The Government are concerned and I am personally concerned about the accident rate in the North Sea and the tragic events that have occurred there. I am hopeful that before long we shall be able to announce to the House that we have extended to those workers engaged in the dangerous areas of the North Sea the protection and safeguards of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Mr. Cryer

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is not only on the offshore installations that workers are facing difficulties over the Health and Safety at Work Act? Does he further accept that installation workers in the asbestos industry are facing particular difficulties? Recently a firm called CDN dismissed 13 workers for demanding overalls when using calcium silicate materials which were not marked to exclude asbestos as the code of practice requires them to be marked? Will my hon. Friend bring a maximum amount of pressure to ensure that employers apply the Health and Safety at Work Act fairly and that people are not penalised for calling in the factory inspector?

Mr. Walker

I am very familiar with the problems to which my hon. Friend has referred. It goes beyond the firm of CDN. The problem has been a festering sore for years. It is interwoven with industrial relations problems. I do not want to say anything that will in any way diminish my concern about the danger associated with asbestos and its use in these installations. I have asked the Chief Executive of the Health and Safety Executive and the Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission to have another careful and critical look at exactly what is happening in that area.