HL Deb 24 January 1967 vol 279 cc509-34

6.48 p.m.

LORD CROOK rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they contemplate taking any additional action in view of the slow and disappointing progress made by industry in setting up Joint Safety Committees, and the deterioration in the accident position in industry as a whole, as disclosed by the Annual Reports on the work of Her Majesty's Factory Inspectorate in 1965 (Cmnd. 3080 and Cmnd. 3081).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sorry to keep your Lordships at this late hour, but I am sure you will acquit me of any blame, owing to the long time which our business has taken. I would have withdrawn the Question tonight, but for the fact that it started as a Motion on the Order Paper in October at the beginning of the "Stop Accidents Year." It deteriorated into an Unstarred Question, and this is the first occasion on which we have had the chance of getting it on to the Order Paper; and your Lordships will know that the House has a lot of business ahead of it. I should like to say that two or three of my noble friends who would have spoken have had to leave on account of the lateness of the hour. For that reason, I will add a little to what I had intended to say, although I will endeavour not to keep your Lordships too long.

Your Lordships will not need me to remind you that one of the major problems of modern medicine is what can only be called the disease of accidents. Indeed, it has got beyond being a disease—it is an epidemic. To-day, many thousands of men, women and children lie in hospital wards recovering from injuries. It is estimated that 13,000 beds are occupied in United Kingdom hospitals every day of the week by accident cases. That, my Lords, is sufficient to fill 26 good sized hospitals. Every year, 309 million working days are lost through accidents, and illness arising from accidents; and deaths by accident are greater in number than deaths from either coronary disease or from cancer. I give that not as a statement of my own, but on the evidence of the Medical Research Council.

It is in the light of this serious position about accidents that I have ventured from time to time to bring to your Lordships' attention the question of accidents in the home and in industry, as well as on the roads; because the roads are always given publicity and too often the great causation of accidents in the homes, and in industry, is completely forgotten.

The economic loss to this country of accidents has been estimated to be £500 million annually. So it is to-day that I ask this Question relating to industrial accidents disclosed in the valuable and informative Reports of the Chief Inspector of Factories at the Ministry of Labour. That Inspectorate has gone a long way since it was set up in 1844 and dealt with the problem of children of less than nine years of age working in textile factories. Over the years, the legislation of Parliament, backed by excellent work in the Inspectorate, has caused a great decline in serious accidents that might otherwise have occurred in factories. But however true that might have been in earlier years, the truth is that in our recent modern society we now have this alarming trend of more and more accidents. The figure for 1965, disclosed in the Report of the Chief Inspector, has reached a new high, 293,717, compared with 268,648 in 1964, an increase of 9.3 per cent. which follows an increase of 31.5 per cent. in the preceding year. On present trends, the next Report of the Chief Inspector is likely to give us a figure of over 300,000.

I know that the Minister who is to reply will say that some of these figures in the Report are not completely reliable for comparative purposes, because the Inspectorate themselves during the year under review were busy improving the standard of reporting by people in factories, and that the figure may have been inflated in the course of this statistical year. But if that is true—and I accept that it is true—then it must be true that there are still accidents which are not reported, and it must be true that there have been accidents in past years that have not been reported. Of course I realise that there are more people at work, and that more people at work must always mean more people at risk.

But lest I make comparisons which are difficult, let me go back to 1962 and compare the figure for that year with the figure of 293,000 to-day. In 1962 the figure was only 190,000. It is a pretty shocking thing that anybody can stand here and use the word "only" in respect of the death and dismembering of many fellow citizens, the creation for many of them of lifelong misery and, what is more, lifelong misery for families for whom they were the breadwinner. Of course the position is really even worse, because the figures of the Factories Inspectorate show only the accidents which have to be notified to them in the factories covered by the Factories Act and, therefore, do not give a complete picture of this mounting tide of human distress.

We can take a sidelong peep at other statistics on the table in front of your Lordships by looking at the figure given by the Minister of Social Security as to the total number of applications made for industrial injuries benefit in the same year. Regrettably, that figure amounts to very nearly one million—to be exact, in the year in question, 957,000, making it clear that we can expect the next figure to be well over one million. If we looked at that figure with no regard to emotional concern it must disturb us, but I think as Parliamentarians we must be disturbed by the effect on the nation, what it means to productivity and to the economy of the country.

At the last Industrial Safety Study Conference of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the latest figures were presented by those responsible, and I should like to give them to your Lordships in order to put into perspective this terrible economic factor. The loss of productivity resulting from industrial accidents in the year is £104 million; the overall cost to industry, including the replacement of labour and the cost of make-up of pay is £228 million; and the total cost to society, including the Industrial Injuries Act benefits to which I have referred, is no less than £325 million in the year.

Most of these accidents could have been avoided by co-operation between employers and workpeople. Some of the big employers do everything they can. But we must never forget that a large number of factories in this country of ours are small in size. As a nation we are based on small factories, going back 100 years. It is not a bad idea to refer to 100 years ago, because many of the premises in which people work are old-fashioned. They were not built for the modern industrial processes carried on in them, and they are dark and often totally unfitted for the jobs to be performed in them. Many of the small employers just do not bother anyway. As the Chief Inspector says in his Report, the damage and danger to our youth, newly employed, is shocking. Young people are put on to jobs with no training at all. The most that they can expect is that the older men who have been on the job for years will teach them. They must pick it up as they go along by watching. And many of these older men no longer have the habits of safety in the conditions in which they work; they have got into bad, slipshod, unsafe habits. So the lad learns not only what is good, but a lot that is bad as well.

I would be the first to say that the 1964 Industrial Training Act has provided some improvement. As the years go on it will provide more, but it will be a long time before we have the full effect of it. The Chief Inspector says: While a lot has been done by the larger firms in improving safety training, little or no progress has been reported in the smaller establishments. Instances were reported far too often of young people being almost pushed into danger as a result of false economies or to maintain production. That is a very serious indictment made by the Chief Inspector of Factories in this country.

I should like to be clear, and say that admittedly some of the accidents are due to the complete carelessness of workers themselves. By all means let us blame the employers when fingers are cut off on a bacon-slicing machine; but we cannot blame the employer when it is a toe that is cut off, because, as the Chief Inspector points out, that could have happened only through the operative standing on the machine to open a window.

Similarly, I was interested, and a little horrified, to read that scalping is now back with us fairly badly. Some of us, in the first year when we put women to work in munition factories, in 1940, knew of this grave scalping danger, when women's hair was caught in belts, and so on. I was astonished, and at the same time amused, when I read that the Chief Inspector had offered a piece of blue ribbon to one of the men he saw in a factory where scalping had taken place. More seriously, I was glad to see that he had gone on to suggest that the men should do now what the women did in the war; that was, to wear a little cap which was given to them. He suggested that the men should take such a cap, preferably with a peak in front, and wear it to avoid this new danger that has come with the long-haired brigade.

But, my Lords, all the posters of factory inspectors, and all the exhortations on the walls, will not be any good unless the atmosphere is right in the work place. The Chief Inspector touches on one point that I know to be quite real, that of maintenance of production; when he refers to the demand for speedier production. From my personal experience I know how, in the growth in recent years of the desires to speed up production, there have been agreements between employers and unions for payment by tonnage, or alternatively by output per hour, or by bonuses on the output for a day or a week, with the result that we can expect: that the employer who wants to increase exports is pressing the men, and the men are not worrying about being pressed. They are most happy to work faster and to take the risks because of the bigger take-home pay they will get. They take off safety guards: they get bigger pay, and the country gets bigger exports. But I am trying to show that what we gain in one way we lose in another by the sacrifice of life and limb. I am one who refuses to accept the philosophy that a price we must pay for increased productivity in this country is the loss of life and limb.

It is now ten years since the Minister of Labour's Joint Advisory Committee, representative of both the trade unions and the employers, recommended the establishment of the works safety committees which I mention in my Question. Yet the Chief Inspector's Report has this to say: I am sorry to say there has been little progress since then"— "then" being ten years ago— and according to our estimates the number of safety committees has not increased as much as had been hoped for. The Ministry of Labour statement in another place last November is undoubtedly right; that joint consultative machinery on voluntary lines is much to be preferred to compulsory committees. But it is tragic, and in my view a great reflection on industry in this country, upon both the trade unions and the employers, that the Minister had to goon in that statement to say that, since progress in the past has been completely disappointing, he had decided that unless there is satisfactory progress over the next few years he will feel obliged to seek power to require the establishment of machinery for joint consultation. I echo his final words; that he hoped progress might be made in the next two or three years so as to avoid such legislation.

That brings me to the nub of my Question to the Government to-day: What is it now proposed to do in order to try to ensure that what we have failed to achieve in the last ten years is achieved by voluntary effort, so that we may avoid this compulsory Act of Parliament. I hope, of course, that the effort will be stimulated by the imaginative effort that has been made jointly by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, of which I am honoured to be a vice-president, and the Ministry of Labour in the appointment of seven regional safety organisers, the cost of whom is being paid for by the Ministry and ROSPA jointly, to a maximum of £16,000 per annum for the first three years, after which we all hope that it will be a self-supporting scheme. One of their tasks is to stimulate top management as to safety. As the Duke of Edinburgh, our President for the Jubilee Year of ROSPA said on the opening of this year as "Stop Accidents Year": Experience shows that only a strong lead from top management can ensure that safety precautions are taken seriously at all levels. There is no magic about a good safety record; any company can achieve one provided everyone is conscious of the need to stamp out unnecessary accidents at all times.

If one turns then to the second Report one finds the same kind of considerations about industrial health. I would commend the words of the Chief Inspector, who said that the maintenance of a healthy working environment is just as important as promoting safety or preventing accidents. This, he said, was sometimes forgotten by industry, but it was well worth reminding them of it, in view of the constantly changing methods of production and the introduction of technological methods. Without doubt this second Report on industrial health records the constant and unremitting work of the specialised inspectors in promoting and protecting health in the ever-changing industrial environment, a change which is bringing new hazards to health and throws up new problems for the doctors.

There was only one matter omitted from the Report that I should have liked to see included. That was a reference to the work of the Medical Commission on Accidents, which was set up in 1963, arising out of the National Convention on Accident Prevention. That has had to run on a budget of voluntary contributions. Some Members of your Lordships' House and myself have ben associated with this: those connected with I.C.I., Fisons, Unilever, and companies like that, who have put their money in; and the Board of which I had the honour to be Chairman, the National Dock Labour Board, was one of the supporters. But the Commission's total income has never exceeded £10,000 in any year. They have in hand material schemes, involving co-operation between medical bodies and hospitals, for which they need an additional £20,000 a year.

I am not going to pretend that I expect the Minister to-night, on an Unstarred Question, to start "ante-ing up" money for anything like this. But I want to get the point on record. I recognise that the Accident Commission is dealing not only with industrial accidents, the subject of this Question, but also with accidents on the roads, accidents in the home, in sport and the like. But I think that there have been too few schemes of this kind in this country for us to see this one imaginative effort founder solely for the sake of such a small amount of money. I expect nothing from the Minister to-night, but I would ask him to make a note to see that his colleagues in the Government think about this Commission when next they are looking at some of these problems.

I know that I have spoken for too long. This is partly, as I said, because there are others who have not been able to stay, and there is so much in the Report to which one would like to refer. For instance, I welcome the decision of the Inspectorate to detail inspectors to undertake surveys in particular subjects. At the same time, I realise that that means that the Chief Inspector is detaching inspectors from their normal jobs just at a time when those jobs are growing more and more. I am very clear that the Inspectorate has been starved of manpower for many years. The total authorised personnel, in my view, has never been enough to do the job as most of us connected with the trade union movement would like to see it done.

If one looks at the details it is bad enough that the totalauthorised establishment is still only 517; but it is even worse to read that, of that establishment, only 481 were in post last year, and that over that last year the increase has been only seven from the 1964 figure of 474. So, with what I regard as a minimum authorised establishment, they are still 36 under the number they could have. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us that one of the things which the Ministry of Labour can do to deal with this tragic situation is, if not to put up the established cadre, at least to see that the missing number is made up. There is so much that could be said on these valuable Reports, but the hour is late. I might have wished for a debate instead of an Unstarred Question on this important subject, so that I could hear some of my colleagues in industry who have clear views on the subject, but at this time I must be content with this Question which I now beg leave to ask.

7.12 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for initiating this debate and thereby focusing attention on a very grave state of affairs. I must confess that he dealt with it in a very gentle way. I feel much more indignant than he does about it. Perhaps my noble friend feels indignant, but he did not express indignation with the same force that I feel tempted to do. It seems paradoxical that in an age of great technical progress we are failing to provide adequate protection to workers in comparatively simple processes—processes which have been used for many years.

I find the Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories disturbing reading. I am left with the impression that too much blame is attached to the worker and not enough to the indifferent employer and those who fail to supervise adequately the management of these small factories and works. It seems that despite the deteriorating situation—and my noble friend has given the House the figures—there is a reluctance to establish joint safety committees. I would ask my noble friend why this cannot be a statutory obligation forthwith, in view of the figures which he has been given. It appears that the position will deteriorate still further, and it seems surprising that there should be any further delay in setting up these committees.

As the victim of an accident or an industrial disease is always the employee, it would seem to me that he has every reason to protect himself, provided there is co-operation forthcoming from the management. If some workers show apathy, as has been suggested in the Report, it is because they have not been kept fully informed of some of the occupational hazards. For instance, for years the miners were kept in ignorance of the lethal properties of coal dust. And it came as a surprise to me to read in the Report on Industrial Health that the symptoms of byssinosis, the dust disease of cotton and flax workers, are described as being fairly well known even by the workers themselves. If it has taken so many years to warn the workers of the serious nature of this disease, then decades must pass before they are warned of the risks run by those contracting chronic interstitial fibrosis, a lung condition which has not yet had a confirmed ætiology. I find it difficult to understand why this knowledge is withheld. There are nurses, medical officers, officials of all kinds in this particular field, and yet still this amazing ignorance exists among the workers of the hazards of their occupations. I would agree that there are no doubt many workers who adopt the attitude of "I'm all right, Jack", but that is no excuse for failing to offer the maximum protection to the others.

The curious thing about this appalling problem is that public interest is not very great. It seems to me that public interest in a death rate varies according to the circumstances. While a disaster in the pits makes headlines, the fact that last year there were 293,717 industrial accidents, of which 627 were fatal, has little news value. These accidents apparently occurred in familiar surroundings—in a factory, in a works, or in a shop with a bacon machine. This has no news value. Furthermore, it was stated in the Report that at least 30 per cent. of reportable accidents have not been reported to the Inspectorate.

It seems, from reading the Report, that the large firms have improved safety training and it is the small firms which show a high accident rate; and apparently the accidents often occur on machines where the principles of guarding are well-known and where guards are known to be effective. This fact evokes this comment in the Report: The continuance of disabling accidents on these machines is something of which the occupiers of factories using them should be ashamed. If we are to rely upon the bad employer's experiencing a sense of shame or even remorse in order to prevent accidents, then we can dispense with legislation and an expensive Inspectorate. I say that those who should be filled with shame are those who have allowed the callous employer to evade the law and, through sheer indifference, fail to protect the life and limbs of his workpeople.

This is a very big subject, and these Reports are fairly concentrated. The law in this field has, of course, developed over the years and there have been exhaustive reports on many aspects of it—on the accident rate, on industrial diseases and so on—and committee after committee has been set up to examine the question. I take it that when in another place or in this House somebody stands up, as my noble friend has to-night, and initiates a debate, then perhaps, in order to quieten him or the labour world, or to quieten Members of Parliament in another place who represent industrial constituents, somebody says, "We will set up another committee". The committee sits for two or three years and then makes another report. It would be interesting to know how many of these reports have been acted upon and how many have been pigeon-holed.

In this debate to-night I want to raise two matters. Time is limited, and I want to raise these matters with my noble friend who is to answer for the Government. I do not expect him to be able to answer off the cuff, but I should be quite happy if he would promise to send me a detailed answer by letter. I should like to know what action has been taken regarding the paper written by Dr. Patricia Lees on The Vulnerability to Trauma of Women in relation to Periodic Stress, written for the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention. Many of these women workers are married women who go into industry for the first time, without any knowledge of the hazards. May I know whether women workers are given talks in groups by a nurse or medical officer, which includes this information? As this information covered 10,000 women, it would seem to be a waste of time and money and effort if the findings were not acted upon.

There is another matter which I want to talk about. Of all the horrible disabilities from which workers in our industrial areas suffer, I have picked just one because it struck me directly I went to an industrial constituency. I represented an industrial constituency after representing a London constituency where I found very few industrial diseases. I went up North to an industrial constituency, and immediately the impact of the condition of some of the workers was made upon me. I recall that very many men were, as they call it—it is a euphemism for deafness—"hard of hearing". Youngish men and middle-aged men were suffering from occupational deafness. When I raise my voice in industrial areas about some of these matters they say that I am curious. They say, "My father was deaf".

They also suffer from the most appalling bronchitis. I say, "You should not be like this at 40", but they say, "My father had it and my grandfather had it, and they died from it"; and, of course, father and grandfather worked in the same process. They develop a bad chest, they develop occupational deafness, and it is regarded as almost the normal thing, due, perhaps, to the altitude or the latitude or something which is peculiar to a particular town. What is peculiar to it are these appalling, dark, filthy factories in which some of our people work amid noise which deafens and the consequence of which is that so many of these young and middle-aged men are deaf long before old age comes.

On the subject of occupational deafness, I notice that in the Annual Report the Chief Inspector mentions that this condition was recorded in the 17th century as being found among flour millers and coppersmiths in Italy—200 years ago. It is also stated that deafness is "accepted" as part of a noisy job. What complacency! It is "accepted" that these middle-aged men are gradually going deaf. They sometimes find that they are shunned by their families or by their friends because they cannot reply to a conversation. They become isolated. "Accepted" the Inspector says. It is "accepted" because they know perfectly well that if they make a protest they may lose their job; therefore they live in this world of increasing silence and hope that they will not be discharged because their friends and colleagues may think them a little difficult.

The Wilson Committee, which reported in 1963, concluded that the knowledge on occupational deafness was insufficient for legislation to be made. However, the fact is that occupational deafness is at least accepted, and some attempts have been made to provide buildings which reduce the noise transmission. I am afraid that these buildings are still only prototypes. We cannot say that in this, that and the other large industrial town there are factories which have been insulated in a certain way so that the noise does not have a serious effect upon the workers.

The Chief Inspector, who obviously showed sympathy in this matter, said that where it is possible to reduce the noise to safe levels workers should be protected by ear defenders, as he calls them. I should like to know—and this condition has been known since the 17th century—whether the recommendation that these young men who perhaps are not already deaf should be fitted with what are called ear defenders is being carried out, and what proportion of works have failed to include this as part of a preventive medical service.

I am not being difficult to-night. All I am asking my noble friend is whether the recommendations of the Committee which inquired into women workers' conditions have been carried out, and what is being done about occupational deafness. I am not pressing about all the other diseases which are developing, perhaps due to the handling of some toxic substance, because my noble friend can well say to me that research is still going on. But I do ask him about two very simple aspects of this subject.

While successive reports tell us over and over again of the occupational hazards and the investigations which are being made, the significant omission in the two Reports before us is the evidence that the worker is benefiting from the available protection. That is why I am asking the question about ear defenders. The Chief Inspector of Factories sums up the position in a masterly understatement. He writes: The overall picture is not one that can be regarded with complacency by employers, employees or the members of the Inspectorate", and very wisely he has not sought to whitewash his staff. I cannot agree with my noble friend that there is any excuse because there is a shortage of inspectors. This is so terribly serious that it might have been possible over the years to have part-time inspectors. There is no excuse at all.

I say that the individual employee is powerless in this industrial web, and an unscrupulous employer can out-maneouvre an indolent inspector. I also say that in these Reports the crucial information is missing. I should have liked to have an analysis of a group of small factories, with the accident and sickness rate and the nature and frequency of the surveys of the inspector—and I mean a complete survey, with a report on every aspect of the working of a factory. I should like to know what supervision is exercised over the inspector; how often a fresh mind is brought to bear. To allow the same man or woman to go into the same factory time after time is, of course, psychologically wrong. A person becomes accustomed to a place, and perhaps human beings are not always on their toes. I should like to know how often these inspectors are switched from one area to another, so that a calculating employer cannot bring any undue influence to bear.

I hope the House will realise that I am not disparaging these inspectors. But it must be remembered that before an inspector goes to one of these dirty little factories, he has to warn the employer that he is coming. In that short time all kinds of things can be done. It may even be suggested to some of the workers that if they are questioned—


My Lords, is my noble friend quite sure that this is done? I always thought that a factory inspector could go to a factory at any moment, without any warning.


No, my Lords. I was told before I came here, by somebody who knows all about industry, that for reasons of courtesy the employer is always informed that an inspector is coming—and I also asked a factory inspector. My noble friend must realise that, after a time, such a friendship grows up between the employer and the inspector that it is a bit like calling on a friend. He has to 'phone and say, "I shall be there this afternoon". What I am saying is that this relationship should not exist, and that there should be much more supervision, in view of the appalling conditions that have been described to us to-day.

I am saying that unless this particular nettle—that is, better supervision of the factory inspectors—is grasped firmly, the Chief Inspector of Factories will find that the position may deteriorate still further. I hope that my noble friend has not raised this matter in vain. It is one of the most serious that could possibly come before Parliament, and for some reason which is difficult to understand there is an apathy among all those who have it in their power to change these conditions.

7.31 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this occasion, but I was so moved by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Crook (with whom I share an interest in ROSPA, as I think I am, with him, a Vice-President), that I should like to add a few words to the debate. I congratulate him very much indeed on an absolutely fascinating account of a terrible problem, as I do also the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, on her admirable speech. All that has been said is, I think, most important, and I hope it will reach the ears both of employers and of employees, because what I think one must also say—and I know this to be true—is that quite often it is difficult to get employees to use the safety measures which have been installed.

I do not employ many people, but I do employ a certain number in agriculture; and, as your Lordships may know, there has been a great slackness in getting safety measures introduced in agriculture. I do not know why, but it is one of the last industries to have been dealt with from a safety point of view. Now, every employer has strict instructions about what he has to do, and most farmers—certainly the ones I know—have done it. But you still cannot prevent employees from doing things which they are not allowed to do. You may put up a huge notice saying what is allowed and what is not, but you cannot watch them every single moment of the day, and sometimes accidents happen which are caused simply by the employee's not being prepared to use the safety measures—the safety guards, and so on—which have been provided. That is because, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Crook, has said, these measures sometimes slow down the process, and the men are all desparately anxious to get on with the job. I do not say that that is the main reason, or is anything like the main reason, for the accidents which have been described, because it is not. I remember that during the war I served for a long time on a Ministry of Labour committee which was dealing with the employment of women in munition factories. Those Government factories were all supplied with every conceivable protection, but it was difficult to get the women to use them. It was not the fault of the employer; it was the fault of the employee.

However, those are only comments which I make because I think it is not fair to say that it is all the fault of the employers. It certainly is the fault of the employers that a factory is bad—and the conditions which the noble Baroness has described are, of course, shocking, and nobody would want to see them perpetuated. But there is also the question that, having provided every safety measure, still the people do not use them, and then there is an accident. I have seen it happen, so I am speaking about something of which I have had actual experience.

The noble Lord, Lord Crook, mentioned the question of safety in the home. That is not the subject of our debate to-night, but it is an extremely important matter. I know from my position on the Consumer Council that a very great deal of information comes to us about dangers from various things—unguarded fires, inflammable materials, and so on. One is most anxious to tackle all that in every possible way, to try to make life safer in the home as well as in the factory. I hope that the debate tonight, short as it is, and though at such a late hour, will get wide publicity, and that the Government will try to support in every way possible measures making for greater protection.

I have recently visited some factories in the textile industry in the Midlands where, in the past, the noise to which the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, referred must have been ghastly. In fact, however, the new looms which I was shown—I think they were Swiss, although I am not quite sure—whilenot silent, were so much less noisy than the old ones that it gave one great encouragement. The noble Lord who is going to reply will no doubt recollect the terrible noise in the jute factories in Dundee. I remember being taken there on one occasion. That is really a nightmare. There again, although I speak without the knowledge of the noble Lord, a great deal of that ancient machinery is probably now obsolete, and I hope that noise of that kind, which led to terrifying deafness, is now a thing of the past.

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Crook. I think he has done an excellent service in bringing this subject forward at this moment; and anything that I can do to help, in my capacity as chairman of the Consumer Council, in my capacity as a supporter of ROSPA, as an employer of a very small number of people or in any other way, I shall be only too happy to do, because this is a vitally important matter. I hope that the Government will do all they can to answer the points raised in the brilliant analysis of the problem which has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Crook, and the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill.

7.38 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Baroness Summerskill has referred to deafness and to the need for ear-defenders or some other means of preventing deafness. It is an extraordinary thing, but I do not believe that deafness has ever been classified as an occupational disease, and I do not think there has ever been a Common Law action claiming damages for deafness as a disability created by work. Yet, of course, it is undoubtedly created, although it is a very slow business—and this is one of the difficulties in getting the workers to take protective action.

My noble friend mentioned protectors. These are of two kinds. There are either the things which you can wear inside your ears, which are very uncomfortable, or there are ear-muffs, which you can wear outside your ears but which are very hot—and both protectors are very unpopular for those reasons. In fact, an internal protector may irritate the ear channel and may cause a rash there; so probably a better thing is a piece of cotton wool. But far and away the best thing is to suppress the noise at source. This is the only proper answer, and often it can be done very easily if only managements will think about noise when it comes to re-equipping their fac tory—for example, replacing metal parts which steer mass-produced components into troughs or boxes with wooden parts, so that the impact noise of metal on metal is reduced. That is a perfectly straightforward thing to do.

But at the moment there are no means by which the amount of noise produced in a factory can be measured. There is no organisation whose job it is to measure such noise. It ought to be the job of an industrial hygiene service. That, at the moment, is non-existent, and I must honestly say that we have had very little encouragement from the Ministry of Labour in the establishment of an industrial hygiene service. I wish most strongly that we could see established in the course of the next year or so a proper set of industrial hygiene laboratories which are available freely to industry for the measurement of loud and dangerous noises, among many other dangerous things in such an environment.

My noble friend Lord Crook has done a very useful service indeed in raising this subject. Personally, I agree with every word he has said, although I think we all realise that when he gave us a figure for accidents it was a gross underestimate. He could give us only the notified industrial accidents received by the Ministry of Labour and, as he said, the Ministry of Social Security figures for occupational injuries are higher. Even then they do not really approach the true figures, because these are only for accidents which cause disability lasting for three or more days; that is to say, absence from work for three or more days. In the case of a properly-treated industrial accident, even if a comparatively severe one, like a fracture of a toe or finger, the person should be back at work within twenty-four hours, or even straight away if it were a clean injury, properly sewn up, properly supervised. The very best thing for them is not to go absent. One sees this happen so frequently with back injuries. If a fellow injures his back at work, he may be off work for six to eight weeks or more; but if it is possible for him to have physiotherapy each day at work, and to continue at work, he will get better in two or three weeks.

This is a measure of what we could do. My noble friend stressed the importance of accident committees, and asked what more could be done to stimulate their formation. So far as prevention of accidents is concerned, the only thing to do is to keep on nagging continually. One must go on and on. A high proportion of accidents occur to young people, in their first two or three years at work, and more particularly in their first six months at work, when they have not really learned how to use their machines or how to use their guarding apparatus. As my noble friend Lord Crook said, things will be better with the coming of proper industrial training under the Industrial Training Act.

But there is something else we can do. It is to get at the "kids" at school, before they leave, particularly those who are in the secondary modern or technical streams, and give them talks about accidents in school when industry is still something that they do not know a great deal about, or at least something they do not think they know everything about. Once they start on a lathe, they think they know it all. You can read amazing stories in this Report. For example, there was the little boy who, asked to collect some potassium cyanide, got the crystals in a plastic bucket and noticed that they started fizzing. Little did he realise that it contained hydrochloric acid. He took it round to the foreman, who said something about cleaning it out. He went back and threw in some more potassium cynanide; and if it had not been that the foreman heard him groan as he passed out, it might have had a very serious effect. But this was just pure ignorance. Certainly, the time when we can do most about accident education is before the boys and girls actually start in industry. I think this is something that we have neglected rather a lot. I hope we shall give this education in schools, and I hope we shall do it in the technical colleges.

The second field where I feel most passionately that we are not doing what we ought is in the field of early treatment; that is, in the development of treatment services. It was really a terrible story my noble friend related when he told us what it was costing. Yet we could deal with most of this for a tenth, a twentieth or even a fiftieth of the cost. Time and time again we beg that we should be allowed to develop, or be given the means to start, an industrial health service for the small factories.

My noble friend stressed the small factories, as did the noble Lady. There is no doubt at all that there cannot be safety officers in the small factories. In every good, large factory, there are safety officers who do a good job. Whenever an accident occurs he or she investigates why it happened and finds out what can be done to prevent its happening again. In the very large number of small factories there is nobody to do this work. There cannot be, in terms of the numbers. But if one can develop small industrial health services on a local basis, then they can do for the small employer and for the employees in smaller factories what the big employer does for himself. Once these things are going they can pay for themselves, or industry will pay for the total cost of them. But they need a bit of help to start. We have been begging Conservative Governments, and now we are begging a Labour Government, to give some help to the creation of these industrial health services for the smaller factories.

Until now every one of these services has been created through the generosity of the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust or the Nuffield Foundation. Once they get going they are self supporting. The Dundee Industrial Health Service, the Rochdale Industrial Health Service, the West Bromwich and Smethwick Health Services, the Slough and Central Middlesex Health Service, and my own at Harlow all started in this way. All have managed to make good, yet we cannot persuade the Government to set aside the small amount of money needed to start more. Unless you have a pump-priming grant to get things going, nothing happens.

My noble friend Lady Summerskill mentioned committees which report, after which nothing happens. We have had a Committee on the Appointed Factory Doctors' Service. I hoped (and still hope) that we may get legislation from this Committee in the course of the next twelve months. I trust I am not hoping in vain. I hope very much that in such legislation there may be provision to enable a very small part of the money which is now set aside in the event of an enormous increase in the claims for industrial injuries—I forget the amount; I think it is £300 million or more which is salted away in the Industrial Injuries Fund—to be spent in preventing industrial injuries. It would seem commonsense. Yet it is a commonsense that we have so far failed to get any Government to agree about.

I hope very much that the Government will take this question of industrial safety, of the prevention of industrial accidents and injuries and of illness, of getting Committees set up and of early treatment, very much more seriously than they have in the past. I do not want to see them spending the few thousand pounds for which my noble friend Lord Crook modestly asked for his Committee; I want to see them spending about £4 million to £5 million a year towards preventing the wastage of £300 million a year. It seems to me to be a very simple and sensible investment. If only we could get this done, it would pay for itself not one, twice or thrice, but thirty or forty times over. Yet I fear we shall have to go on asking for a little longer, but I hope not for very much longer, to see this happen.

7.50 p.m.


My Lords, my first duty and pleasure is to express my very sincere appreciation to my noble friend Lord Crook for having initiated this debate and for the very well-informed way in which he stated the point of view that he felt impelled to bring before the House. I should like to say right at the outset that, in speaking last in this debate, I do not regard my task to be to attempt to rebut matters which have been put forward by noble Lords; because so many of them, in fact, are incapable of being given a rebuttal. So many of the things which have been said are statements of fact, statements based on the statistics in the Reports to which my noble friend, Lord Crook has drawn attention. And if, in the first instance, I draw attention to certain aspects of the figures quoted from the Reports, it is not because I wish to fall into the trap which my noble friend Baroness Summerskill suspects that the Chief Inspector has fallen into, of being unduly complacent, but just because I wish to make a modest beginning of an examination of the figures.

My noble friend Lord Crook referred to the increase in reported accidents, and the last complete figure was the one for 1965, of 293,000. The figures for the first nine months of this year indicate that the present year's complete figures will be around the same as, those for 1965, or perhaps very slightly more. If the figures are taken completely at their face value, it indicates a deterioration in the position which cannot possibly be gainsaid; and when one compares the figures, as my noble friend did, with those for as recently as 1962, it seems to indicate an appalling deterioration.

Nevertheless, I must say that the figures cannot be taken quite at their face value (my noble friend indicated that he expected me to say something of this kind), not merely because of the fact that there is improved reporting but for a quite different reason, which was referred to in the Chief Inspector's Reports. It is that changes in social circumstances have taken place and one of the bases for reporting accidents, the three-days absence from work, is now related to circumstances which are perhaps not the same as they were even a few years ago.

Similarly, with the inauguration of the Health Service people suggested that there appeared to be a very sudden increase in illness among women and children because of the calls then made on doctors. But this was not the case; it was because treatment could be obtained which had not been available before, and because of the changed conditions in relation to sick pay schemes, industrial injuries benefits and so on. People who had previously continued at work, or not stayed away from work after injury, did not do so for the very admirable reason suggested by my noble friend Lord Taylor, that continuing at work was perhaps the best way of getting well, but because they could not afford to be off work. That situation has altered, and to a certain extent it has influenced these figures.

But, having said that, I must also make it clear that I do not suggest for one moment that it in any way diminishes the seriousness of these figures. As stated by my noble friend Lord Taylor, the figures of accidents which are reported do not by any means reveal the whole story. So the apparent slight diminution of the increase is probably much more than cancelled out by the unknown and unreported accidents.

My Lords, my greatest regret in relation to this debate is that it should be taking place at an hour of the night when, by past experience, your Lordships can expect to get very little reported in the Press. The circumstances of time are against us. But so much has been said in this debate which is very much worth hearing, which is very much worth being brought to the notice of both employers and employees, that I wish the Press could find some way of using some of this material. Perhaps it might be the subject of articles which could go into weekly newspapers; or it might appear in magazine sections from time to time when the fact that it was actually said at this time on a particular night would bear no relation to its importance. The important thing is that the people concerned should get to know about some of these things.

I agree very much with what has been said by a number of people including the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, who followed my noble friend, Lady Summerskill, who pointed out that not all the blame could be laid at the door of the employers—and that is true. At the same time, we have to admit that the old argument, that everything that could be done for the safety of workers was done, and that accidents happened because workers neglected the use of these safeguards, is no longer true. I recall a slogan used by the Royal Society a year or two ago which I remember hearing at a conference that I attended in Scotland. It was: "Accidents don't happen—they are caused". I have never forgotten those words. I believe that their acceptance by everyone concerned could do a great deal to diminish the number of accidents. If everyone could get that firmly in his mind it would be the best way to reduce the accident figures. Accidents are caused by bad employers. They are caused by careless employees. They are caused by people, anxious to have more money—whether in the shape of profits or in wage packets—taking short cuts, removing safety devices and so on. These things are all part of the trouble.

Having said all that, however, I should also say that much has been done by these joint safety committees. In July of last year my honourable friend, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, said, in reply to a Question in another place that the. Minister still wished to rely on these committees being set up by voluntary effort. From that point of view I am not to-night going to be able to satisfy my honourable friend Lady Summerskill, who desires that they should be set up as a statutory process. The Minister believes, and I think that most people in industry believe, that if the committees can be set up on a very much wider basis than at present as voluntary machinery, they will be much more valuable than something which is imposed. We have a fear (we may be wrong) that committees imposed on workers against their will, and on establishments against their will, might well receive the same treatment as the devices which workers do not wish to use because they impede the possibility of increasing earnings. But a committee which is set up voluntarily within the factory starts off with a degree of good will which is in itself a good beginning to the prevention of accidents inside the factory.

My Lords, if I were to pretend that I knew all about this subject, you would know that it was not true. After all, I have not previously had anything to do with the Ministry of Labour debates in your Lordships' House. But I would say that it is my suspicion that if we could have a comparison between the accident rates in factories which have voluntary safety committees and in those which do not, the factories where there are safety committees would come out very much better every time. For that reason, we prefer to rely for a little time longer on the efforts which are being made, and which I hope will be intensified, as a result of this debate, to get more of these committees going. A very great deal more has to be done before the position could be accepted as being even reasonable, because as yet there is only a minority of these committees in existence. But, as was stated last July, if we cannot see evidence within a reasonably short space of time of an expansion in the voluntary system, then the Minister has not by any means ruled out the possibility that compulsion will have to be applied. But we shall be doing it from the point of view that the application of compulsion is in itself an admission of failure, which would not be the best way to go ahead.

It is not because of ignorance of the subject that I do not propose to reply to the other points which have been made to-night—although I must admit that I have an almost perfect excuse under that heading—hut because the value of this debate is that my right honourable colleague will study what has been said here with the greatest interest. Without exception, noble Lords who have taken part have had something to say which is worth while. I have only one rebuttal to make, and that is to the point questioned by my noble friend Lord Taylor, when my noble friend Lady Summerskill said that inspectors always gave notice before they called on an establishment. She asked that they should be switched round from time to time so that they should not get on too friendly terms with employers and thereby be subject to undue influence. There is no obligation on an inspector to notify anyone of his intention of calling. It may be done in some cases. Personally I can see no reason why it should be done at any time.


My Lords, may I just say that my authority was one of the best—my noble friend Lord Collison, who is a member of the T.U.C.


My Lords, I think that it is sometimes done with very small factories to make sure that the boss is in—that is the practical reason.


My Lords, I know from recent experience that it is not always a good thing to quote personal experience in this House, but it is not long ago since I was concerned with running a small company. We occasionally had visits from factory inspectors, and notwithstanding the fact that I was as much an absentee employer as any likely to be found in the country, I never had any intimation from the factory inspector of his intention to call. So, even in cases of small establishments, notice is not given as a matter of right in order to ensure that the employer or person responsible is in when the inspector calls.


My noble friend must have been suspect.


My Lords, that would not surprise me in the least. I think that I have been suspect all my days. But the fact is that there is no obligation to notify. Again (and I think that this will please my noble friend) inspectors are switched frequently, not in order to avoid their coming under the undue influence of employers—because, frankly, I think that the chances of that are not great—but in order to prevent them, because they are always going to the same places, from overlooking or ignoring, through familiarity, something which a man coming in anew would find out.

My noble friend Lord Crook referred to the number of inspectors employed, and to the fact that the establishment was not filled. I have some small encouragement for him. The last figure of the establishment which he had was 517. That has been increased to 533, although, what is of much more interest to him, the actual number in establishment is 481. My noble friend, and also I think my noble friend Lady Summerskill, asked why there could not be part-time inspectors. A special scheme for the appointment of assistant inspectors has recently been started and has got off to a fairly satisfactory, though small, beginning. These assistant inspectors are recruited from inside the Ministry of Labour's staff, and eleven have so far been trained and taken up appointments. This scheme is being examined so that there can be an expansion of this service, if possible, but the Ministry itself suffers from shortages of certain trained people, and to a certain extent shifting them over to assistant inspectors is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

I hope that I have said sufficient to indicate to all noble Lords who have taken part that I expect my right honourable friend to treat this debate in the way I am treating it to-night, as something which has been very worth while. I hope that the results that will flow from it will come from what is learned outside by industry as well as from what is learned inside the Ministry. On the two points which my noble friend Lady Summer-skill asked me, she anticipated correctly that I should not be able to give answers off the cuff. I regret that. I am happy, however, that her second anticipation, that I would write to her on these questions, is more capable of being carried out; and that I sincerely undertake to do. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Crook for what he has said and all other noble Lords who have taken part.