HC Deb 29 January 1991 vol 184 cc778-9
5. Mr. Pike

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment whether the Government propose to take any new initiatives to reduce the number of workplace accidents.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Eric Forth)

Primary responsibility for maintaining and improving health and safety in the workplace rests with employers and others. The Health and Safety Commission's regulatory and the Executive's enforcement roles are complemented by their giving guidance and advice to stimulate employers and others to act to raise standards. Their current priorities for action are set out in their plan of work for 1990–91 and beyond, which the Secretary of State helped to launch in July last year.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister accept that the Government are guilty of gross negligence in regard to safety at work? If he studies the article in The Guardian of 24 November which deals with the tragic death of George Kenyon at Holt Plastics in Haslingden, he will learn that, in 1988–89, there were 697 deaths at work and nearly 200,000 serious injuries. Since 1981, there has been a massive increase in the number of accidents and a reduction of over 900 in the number of inspectors. Is not it time that the Government did something to reduce that appalling figure?

Mr. Forth

Let me make it clear that I make a practice of never studying articles in The Guardian: I therefore cannot comment on the article to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong in every respect. First, the Health and Safety Commission has told us that it has the resources for which it asked, and is therefore well able to deal with workplace accidents—which it does very competently and professionally. Secondly, the House should not be misled by what the hon. Gentleman said about that tragic incident. As I am sure he knows, it resulted in charges of manslaughter and, indeed, a manslaughter conviction. The charges were brought jointly by the Health and Safety Executive and the Crown prosecution service.

The rate of fatal accidents at work has fallen consistently throughout the 1980s. That, surely, is cause for tribute to be paid to the work of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive rather than for the sort of ill-informed criticism that we heard from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Madel

In view of certain horrific accidents that took place last year, will the Health and Safety Commission introduce new regulations governing the transport of hazardous substances on the roads?

Mr. Forth

That is a matter for the commission and one of which it is well aware. It will be working constantly—as it already does—across the whole area of health and safety to ensure that the existing regulations are appropriate to current developments and that its resources and policies ensure the maximum safety of people in the workplace and between workplaces.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Minister accept that accidents are caused by either carelessness or negligence? Will he encourage the placing of more emphasis in schools on the need for improved care and safety practices among young people who are about to go into industry? Will he also encourage employers to allocate funds for training, so that more individuals with health and safety qualifications are employed in industry?

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point: that although carelessness and negligence are the main contributory factors, accidents are caused, at least in part, by lack of information and awareness among both employers and workers about the need for safety. The Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive have produced a number of excellent publications. They work with trade associations and industry to ensure that everyone is fully informed about the requirements of safety in the workplace and of the regulatory framework within which they must operate. That is something of which we are well aware and constant attention is devoted to it. I shall certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman's recommendations to my colleagues at the Department of Education and Science so that we may ensure that schools, too, are made aware of the need for safety.

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