HC Deb 07 June 2004 vol 422 cc8-9
4. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab)

What criteria he uses to assess the effectiveness of the Health and Safety Executive. [177314]

The Minister for Work (Jane Kennedy)

Notwithstanding the fact that the United Kingdom has one of the best health and safety records in Europe, in 2000 the Government set targets further to reduce accidents and ill health caused by work. The Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive have developed a new strategy to help to deliver these targets, and I hold quarterly performance reviews with the HSE, at which key indicators on performance are discussed, among other matters.

Tony Lloyd

My right hon. Friend will agree that for any Labour Government, health and safety are at the highest point on the political agenda, but does she accept that the strategy agreed by this Government and the Health and Safety Commission is not being adhered to and that we are not seeing the reductions in deaths, serious injuries and workplace-related illness that we anticipated? Will the Government therefore give a clear commitment to that strategy and will they ensure that the Health and Safety Executive has the necessary funding to enforce and prosecute, which it is currently failing to do? Will they also introduce the promised legislation, in order to provide real power to crack down on rogue employers who kill and injure our fellow countrymen and women in the workplace?

Jane Kennedy

I do acknowledge the importance that many Members in all parts of the House attach to health and safety, but I do not accept my hon. Friend's observation that the Health and Safety Executive has failed to progress towards achieving these targets. Delivering on the targets is not just about more cash or more inspectors. All organisations such as the HSE can always use more funding, but effective regulation of health and safety at work is about more than that: it is about providing the right information and advice; training; working with and through others; and changing workplace culture. The threat of enforcement is an important element in that regard, and in the light of my increasingly close work with the HSE, I am satisfied that, although there are areas in which we need to make more progress, on the whole the HSE and the Health and Safety Coin mission are keeping these targets in focus and are working towards achieving them.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con)

A fortnight ago, as the Minister will be aware, the Health and Safety Executive's Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 came into force. In those regulations, the agency makes no distinction between the deadly blue and brown forms of asbestos, which have caused such suffering, and the far less risky white asbestos. Is the Minister aware of reports that unscrupulous contractors are using that confusion to rip off home owners, small businesses, farmers and others? What is she doing to ensure that a well meant attempt to protect public health does not become a regulatory nightmare?

Jane Kennedy

I will look closely into those allegations and if there is any truth in what the hon. Gentleman is saying, I shall certainly look into the matter further. I am grateful to him for bringing it to my attention.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is about time the Health and Safety Executive ceased to be a sort of back office of a Government Department? Is it not time we gave it some real independence? I understand that the HSE would dearly like to campaign and to push the Government into doing something about protecting workers from passive smoking at work, but that the Government are leaning on it to be quiet. If that is true, it is a disgrace. Is it not about time the Government grasped the nettle and protected workers?

Jane Kennedy

The Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive are independent organisations and they are not coming under pressure from the Government not to pursue a campaign on smoking at work, so I am afraid that I cannot accept the basis of my hon. Friend's question.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con)

The Health and Safety Executive is an excellent and important organisation that does good work. Will the Minister congratulate it on its targeting of major causes of accidents, particularly falls from height on building sites? Does she agree that it is important to provide safer methods of forming barriers across openings at height on building sites—for instance, where lift shafts are being provided for—and is she aware that the Fullgate system, which does just that, is manufactured on Canvey Island?

Jane Kennedy

I was not aware of that last fact, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing the House's attention to it. He is right to congratulate the Health and Safety Executive on its good and effective work on the incidence of injuries caused by workers falling from height. Indeed, the rate of reported major injury to employees is now about 3 per cent. lower than it was in 2000, the base year for the targets that I spoke about earlier. However, the balance of evidence suggests that the overall incidence of work-related ill health is likely to have risen, so we are not complacent. We accept that there is a lot more to do and we keep all such matters under constant review.

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