HL Deb 28 October 1970 vol 312 cc126-86

3.51 p.m.

LORD CROOK rose to call attention to the continued increase of industrial disease and of accidents, both fatal and nonfatal, in factories, offices, shops and railway premises; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. It is a Motion which has not aroused Party political conflict, nor is it perhaps as interesting as it should be to many Members of your Lordships' House. This afternoon I am trying to turn our attention from the daily ration of news of strikes and what we in this country lose by them, to the even greater numbers of workdays lost elsewhere. The Press today tells us that this year we may reach as bad a figure as in 1957, when 8½ million workdays were lost. I am going to speak about accidents and industrial diseases, which cause us a loss of never less than 24 million workdays each year and in addition impose a great cost on the Health and Insurance Funds. As your Lordships will see from the Report, payments borne last year by the Industrial Injuries Fund amounted to over £113 million. In any week of last year 73,000 persons were drawing benefits under the Scheme in respect of accidents or prescribed industrial diseases. In addition, nearly 12,000 were receiving payments under the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementary) Scheme of 1966.

But apart altogether from payments, I want to attract your Lordships' attention to the misery falling upon the large number of workers who suffer in this way, and upon the large number of dependants who are either widowed or orphaned by the deaths that take place. The nearest any of us ever get to an understanding of the position in this country is from the two Reports published by the Department of Employment and Productivity. The first is that of the Chief Inspector of Factories, and the second refers to the Offices. Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963. They give the figures of what are called "reportable accidents", but of course those figures relate to people covered by these Acts, and there are many people not covered by any Act at all.

From the Report published in the last week or two we see that last year no fewer than 669 persons died, out of a total of 340,000 accidents reported to the Factory Inspectorate: that is to say, two persons died every working day, and 1,100 were injured. The two who died never made any headlines in the Press, as would two motorists caught on a level crossing. There were no cameras about when a forklift truck ran away; either because it was secondhand and not tested, or because it was driven by a man not trained—I am referring to two accidents this year, when men were crushed against walls. There is no one who seems to bother about this volume of accidents which is greater than anything known on the roads.

A glance at the new publication, the Annual Report of the Ministry of Health and Social Security, to which I have already referred, also shows that in the field of pneumoconiosis 975 people were receiving payment for total incapacity, and 3,182 for partial incapacity; a frightening total now approaching 5,000. What is more, one reads that during the year 139 final death payments were made in respect of past pneumoconiosis pensioners. The Chief Inspector of Factories, Mr. Plumbe, who has done such wonderful work, said when he was speaking to RoSPA recently that these figures were not good figures; they were very small compared with the truth. I will quote his words: some very much larger number—let us say, though from all my experience this is too conservative a figure, fifty times as many—a total of 16 million accidental happenings

in each year. He added: This is the true size of the problem, and a very rich field for action".

It is because it is such a rich field for action that I ventured to try to direct your Lordships' attention to the subject this afternoon. The Report from the Department of Health and Social Security shows that in respect of industrial injuries during the year the Department dealt with claims for benefit from 928,000 persons, and for disablement benefit with 205,000, a grand total of well over a million. I repeat that more die and are injured in this way than we get from the toll on the roads which we read about so regularly.

Although from time to time I have made criticism of certain things in respect of the Factory Inspectorate, let me say straight away to the noble Lord who is to speak for the Government that since I first became a union official fifty years ago I have had nothing but the highest respect for all the magnificent work which the Factory Inspectorate have done with very inadequate numbers of inspectors, with some out-of-date laws, and with an inability to deal with many of the problems which they would like to deal with. However, as to the Report which I have mentioned, I should first like to congratulate the Government on what they refer to as a small high-powered body to conduct a general inquiry across the whole field of health and safety legislation".

This was one of the last decisions reached by the right honourable Lady the First Secretary, and one of the first decisions of the right honourable gentleman who took her place was to confirm the appointment of the Committee.

I congratulate both of them on the person who has been appointed chairman. We all know the abilities of the noble Lord, Lord Robens of Woldingham, but apart from his abilities in the general field some of us know what he has done in respect of accidents in the coalfields. When I first visited the coalfields, back in the 1920s, the accidents, diseases, distress and troubles in the coalfields were pitiable. The coalfields are still not heaven to work in, but the way in which the toll of accidents has been reduced is quite remarkable. In the years 1942 to 1946 there was an average of 661 accidents a year; in 1967 it was down to 133. I am not talking of accidents in general, but accidents that led to death. The annual figure is now 84. But if we want to get the figures into perspective, we have to pay regard to the reduction in regard to manpower employed, and it is better to speak in terms of the death rate per 100,000 man shifts. It was 93, and it is now 27.

What is more—a fact which other managements might try to learn for themselves—the National Coal Board's Report shows that, in their own judgment, their safety programme has saved them no less than £8 million. Safety is essentially, of course, a two-sided matter; it involves management and workpeople. I admit that there have always been people, workers, who do not take enough trouble and who will always take short cuts, but the essential element in safety lies in the direction and leadership of management. That is what happened in the coal industry; a bold lead was given by management, and co-operation was given by the trade union and the men. I wish Lord Robens's Committee well, and look forward to a good report at an early date. To mention the Coal Board only is not to say that there are not other great employers who have done equally marvellous things in the field of accident prevention. But, unfortunately, this country is not made up only of large-scale employers and huge factories. There are workers in many small places who are still suffering far too much.

The next subject which I had noted for mention is one about which I have found some difficulty since I first sat on these Benches this afternoon. I want to mention the comments that I have made in your Lordships' House, supported so ably by my noble friend Lady Summerskill, about asbestos. I had given the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn. whom I welcome as the Minister who is to reply for the Government, notice that I should deal with this subject, but he has been good enough, since I sat down, to notify me that, although I did not know it, the judgment for £86,000 which has come to be so much in the public eye is to be the subject of an appeal. For that reason I have to disregard some of the notes that I made and, with the greatest possible circumspection, I shall try to comment only on the Factory Inspectorate and the general conditions of the people, avoiding any comment that could be said to be anticipating any decision which the Appeal Court may reach.

It is now many years since the Asbestos Regulations were first made; in fact, they were made in 1931, and they became operative in 1934. I reminded your Lordships' House some few years ago that we now use six times the amount of asbestos that we used when those regulations came into effect and, what is more, we use crocidolite, which is the most dangerous from the health point of view. In your Lordships' House on February 5, 1968, I deplored the slow progress which was being made by the Government in that matter, and the Minister replying for the Government offered me a copy of the draft of the new regulations which were to replace the old. I thank God that the regulations at last came into effect on May 14 this year. It has taken from 1968 until now to get them into operation, and it was only in July last that the D.E.P. were able to issue the guidance document. This is not a criticism of any one individual or the Department; but every time we try to get any reform of this kind, which concerns the health and safety of workpeople, we have this terribly long delay.

The cases to which I have referred previously (I can mention these, because they have been the subject of publication in the Press) tell a most shocking story of failure on the part of employers and on the part of the Factories Acts. It was, as a learned judge pointed out, as long ago as 1953 that factory inspectors drew the dangers to the attention of the people concerned. But despite factory inspectors' constant visits and advice the conditions continued unchanged. Finally, in 1964, there were prosecutions for breach of regulations. It took 11 years of visits from inspectors, with no positive action, before anything happened and the firm concerned then pleaded guilty and were fined. They then moved around the corner to another slum, where the same workers were taken on and worked on the same job. But that second place has never been the subject of a prosecution, although evidence was given in court that the amount of dust in the air was 600 times what it should have been, partly due to the fact that it was being swept up by brooms in the ordinary way while the workers were there.

I cannot understand why nothing more was done by the Factory Inspectorate. After all, they have powers and some of them at times—it takes a long lime for them to make up their minds to do it—do use those powers. Two inspectors went to court this year in the first case under Section 55(1). The inspector told the court that after years of pressure he had felt forced to take action. Those are the words in the D.E.P's own publication. The evidence was so overwhelming that the court ordered the firm to shut its factory within seven days. Another inspector, dismayed by the continuing conditions year after year at a factory making tennis and golf balls, took similar action in court.

What I am asking, my Lords—and I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell me—is why it is, since we have the Acts and we have an Inspectorate, short-staffed though it always is, that nothing was done over the years; and we heard no more, until reports were given in the Press, of the six men who have already died, and of the seven in respect of whom evidence has been given that they are doomed to die in due course. Is it because of the insufficient number of inspectors, or the failure of the staff to do what the Deputy Chief Inspector, Bryan Harvey, referred to when he recently spoke to RoSPA? He then said: The control of industrial dust is a part of a wider picture of environmental conditions in industry which affect everyone employed. The results of failure to control dust have none of the drama of a crushing accident or of a decapitation, but the man who ekes out his last few weeks struggling for every breath is just as much a victim of his work as anyone else".

I could not have put it so well, and it would not have been so well received. This dust, as I reminded your Lordships in 1968, is not breathed only by the workers on the job: it goes into the air around and, indeed, into the neighbourhood.

Your Lordships may ask yourselves why it was that in 1968 I tried to draw attention to the subject, and why my noble friend Lady Summerskill and I have been so continually nagging about this matter. In that year the British Medical Journal published a startling article by two doctors—a man and a woman—the consultant physician of the Plymouth General Hospital and the Director of Plymouth Mass Radiological Unit. They had found and reported ten cases of malignant tumour among men in the Royal Dockyard at Devonport during the preceding three years—five of them in 1967. They then undertook a survey of 10 per cent. of the 15,000 people in the Dockyard, and saw 1.414 men. The survey showed that 28 per cent. of workers continuously exposed to asbestos in the Dockyard had the disease known as pleural fibrosis of the lungs. That means that on the limited basis of X-rays—I say "limited", because X-rays do not always show up pleural disease—600 men employed at Devonport were potentially at risk.

So it was that in 1968, although we were really talking about workers in factories, I ventured to offer to the Government the observation that, in the view of the medical profession at that time, the people in the neighbourhood were being put at risk, and people who are exposed to the dust from a factory are liable to develop the asbestos tumour years afterwards. For that reason, I welcome the words that have been put into the terms of reference of Lord Robens's Committee. I do not know whether any of your Lordships have seen the very significant last part which has been added. It states: to consider whether any further steps are required to safeguard members of the public from hazards, other than general environmental pollution, arising in connection with activities in industrial and commercial premises and construction sites".

I know that I speak for a number of noble Lords on these Benches, when I say how glad we are that the terms of reference go so far.

I should like to pick out a couple of items of the Report in the Offices Section dealing with the 1963 Act. We have been talking this afternoon about congratulations to the Government. I congratulate the Government that in 1963 they produced this, with our support—although, of course, they did not go all the way that we should have liked. I imagine that most people would be staggered to learn (because they do not read the Reports) that last year in offices and shops 19,018 accidents were reported to the authorities, and that of these no fewer than 20 were fatal.

Those figures are, of course, an understatement, because 17 local authorities have so far not bothered to send in their annual reports to the Department of Employment and Productivity. Indeed, the Report carefully cloaks in words what I regard as the shocking picture of the failure of local authorities to put the 1963 Act into operation—something which some of us forecast. Because the Report says—and I quote from paragraph 2 of Chapter 1: Most enforcing authorities had by the end of 1969 made at least one general inspection, and many had completed two …

There is no need for me to tell your Lordships how long the local authorities have had. It is spelled out clearly in another paragraph a little later on, where it says: After five years of enforcing the Act most authorities had completed the initial general inspection.

My Lords, we are asked to be satisfied that, five years after we passed the Act and gave all these authorities this job to do, they have managed to get round to doing it once. My noble friends and I did not want this task given to the 1,603 local authorities who now have the responsibility to do it. Some of the authorities are excellent; some are hopeless, completely hopeless; and in between there are those who try to do a good job.

I should also like to say something on the lighting standards mentioned in the Report. Proper lighting standards have always been regarded by the Factory Inspectorate as essential in accident prevention. Indeed, this month's edition of the magazine, Accidents—the brilliant magazine which the Department produces—has a horrifying one-page picture of a woman pitching down a badly lit staircase. To guide employers on the right lines, the Department, through its inspectors, issued a booklet to the 1,603 local authorities. It is the one referred to on the top of page 15 of the current Report, and I would say to your Lordships that it is an excellent publication. It has one thing wrong with it, and it is to that that I want to refer, because when you read the top of page 15 you sec a reference to "the two standards of lighting". They were not called "two standards" by important papers dealing with lighting and electricity. The Electrical Times called them "dual standards", and said this: By setting dual standards the Department will create considerable confusion in interpretation. In practice the decision on what is regarded as 'sufficient and suitable'"—

those three words come from the Act— rests with one of the several enforcing authorities and the courts. There are therefore likely to be wide differences … The first-class advice that the Department of Employment and Productivity has provided in its booklet indicates a serious desire to raise standards. But it should think again on the question of specified levels".

I completely echo every single word of that statement, and I want to tell your Lordships why. The booklet sets out the proper standards of illumination, which are those contained in the Code of the Illuminating Engineering Society. That is the code which is being used, which is being lived up to or beyond, in lighting all the new buildings. But apart from those figures, there is another little appendix which gives owners of offices and shops new figures which, notwithstanding the Code, will be accepted by the Factory Inspectorate as sufficient—the minimum they will take. At best that is one half, and in many cases not even one third, of the figure that it should be. For dangerous dark passages and exits, where as little as two lumens is recommended in the Code, the standard is reduced so that one half a lumen will satisfy the Inspectorate. In areas of shops where food is cut in slices, and in kitchens, where the Code says that at the very least there should be 37 lumens, the Factory Inspectorate indicate that they are quite prepared to see local authorities accepting 20 lumens.

The better local authorities were actually quite astonished at the decision of the Ministry to publish a dual set of standards together, and one of them, the Bath local authority, had this to say in their report, published last year, which is being reviewed in this Report: In October, 1968, the D.E.P. suggested minimum and recommended standards of lighting for various situations. Most of the 38 cases where lighting was considered unsatisfactory were judged before this and by standards not as low as the minimum".

The truth is that people are saying quite clearly that standards are now being put down by some people who know that they do not have to live up to the higher standards because there will be that easiness on the part of the inspectors when they come round.

There are many subjects in both these reports that I should have liked to talk about, but I have already trespassed upon your Lordships' time too long; and before I resume my seat I want to say a word or two about legislation. My noble friends and I on these Benches were busy pressing the last Government, when we sat on the other side, to get on with two Bills. One was the minimum Bill, which was to deal with the two matters on which the Advisory Committee had made recommendations. The first was to deal with the medical service, replacing the factory doctor service, and to tackle the problem of joint committees and getting something definite, so that we are no longer in the position where only 50 per cent. of these places have these committees in existence. The second, of course, was the amalgamation of all the Factories Acts and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act of 1963 into one comprehensive Act which would apply generally and keep common standards.

I, for one, spoke on this subject during the debate on the gracious Speech in November last year, and I was told that the small Bill would be forthcoming in the current Session, but that the larger Bill was to wait. Your Lordships will know what happened. The smaller Bill was introduced into another place, but before it could even get to the Committee stage there the General Election ensued. So that Bill was lost. I have been waiting, as others have, to see the present Government produce that Bill again, or one in substitution—though I do not know why there should be any substitution, since the terms of that Bill were agreed by the Department only after a couple of years of consulting employers and work people.

But, my Lords, when I read the Hansard of another place I see that the Government are being very cagey in their replies about whether there is to be a Bill; if there is going to be a Bill, when it will be; and if and when it does come along, what is going to be in it. Finally, in moving this Motion, I want to press the Government to tell us when this smaller legislation will come along, even if, for good reasons, of course, they cannot tell us exactly what is in it. I also want to press that the more comprehensive measure, amalgamating the Acts, should also come before us at the earliest possible date. My Lords, I apologise for having kept your Lordships' for nearly half an hour. I beg leave to move the Motion for Papers standing in my name.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, first may I express on behalf of the whole House our gratitude to the noble Lord for raising this subject. It is not, of course, the first time that he has addressed the House on this subject, but I think that it is the first time within recent years that we have had a full debate on it. I have looked up the two previous debates which were initiated on Un-starred Questions raised by the noble Lord in 1967 and 1968. I think it is an excellent thing that we should consider this subject from time to time; it is one which, as the noble Lord said, has no real political content. It is a matter where Parliament as a whole looks after the welfare of those who work in industry.

Industrial accidents do not normally hit the headlines except for the occasional spectacular calamity; and the insidious damage done by industrial disease goes even more unnoticed. That is why I welcome very much what the noble Lord has said in exploring some of the more difficult of the facets of this subject. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, replied to the last debate to the effect that in speaking from this Box it is always difficult on subjects of this kind to avoid appearing complacent. I hope that I shall not appear complacent; but I want to say something about the accident statistics as a whole.

As the noble Lord, Lord Crook, has said, the harsh fact is that the number of notifiable accidents reported under the Factories Acts have risen steadily since 1962 when the figure was 190,158. In 1969, it was 322,390—no less than 70 per cent. higher. If these figures truly reflected the safety performance of industry, they would disclose a massive deterioration for which there was no apparent reason. Fortunately, they do not. This is partly because the increase may be due to improved standards of reporting, but also because changing social conditions have altered the significance of the criterion for reporting accidents; namely, that the employee who had the accident either dies as a result of it or is disabled for more than three days from earning full wages at his work. The fatality rate per 100,000 miners, as the noble Lord truly said, has been reduced since 1947 by two-thirds, and the incidence rate of certain classes of serious accident by one-third; whereas during the same period the number of accidents causing disablement for more than three days has risen by 70 per cent.

It is now generally accepted as a fact that the gross figures are not a sound indication of safety performance, and that is why the Department of Employment started in 1969 to follow up a 5 per cent. random sample of accidents and to classify them according to severity. In course of time, by comparing accidents which have two common characteristics—namely, that they were definitely severe and that they were unquestionably caused at work—we shall hope to get a better idea of the trend in accidents. In the meantime, we have to face the fact that the number of fatal accidents is the most useful indicator and that this has stayed more or less level in recent years.

No Government could be content with the present level of accidents or find consolation in the fact that the number of fatal accidents is not going up. The appointment last May of the Committee of Inquiry, under the chairmanship of Lord Robens, to which the noble Lord referred, showed that the last Government were not content. And neither are this Government content. It is as well to try to read the figures aright as to try to see them in perspective. I shall not say anything more about that; I am trying just to give a balance to the known fact that the notifiable figures for disablement have been going up year after year by something like 1, 2 or 3 per cent. whereas, on the other hand, fatal accidents have remained at a fixed level. It is fair to say that one ought not to be unduly extra-alarmed at the increase in figures, although one must be extremely anxious about the high level.

My Lords, I should now like to deal with the subject that the noble Lord dealt with last: the present position of the two pieces of legislation to which he referred. The: first of these was the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill which failed to reach the Statute Book because of the dissolution of Parliament. The first part of that Bill dealt with the establishment of a new Employment Medical Advisory Service, and the question of the reintroduction of that part of the measure is still under consideration. The second part dealt with the establishment of joint safety committees. This is a more contentious matter. As the noble Lord will recall, there was not agreement in the Advisory Committee on this and the present Secretary of State is not satisfied that compulsion is the right way to develop more effective joint consultation on safety. He does, however, believe that more effective joint consultation would materially help to reduce accidents; and discussions have started with the C.B.I., the T.U.C. and the nationalised industries with that in view. If I may, I will come back to that point later.

The other piece of legislation was to have been based on a comprehensive review of the Factories Act and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act with a very large extension of coverage. Consultations were already well advanced on these proposals when the previous Government decided last May to appoint the Committee of Inquiry under the chairmanship of Lord Robens to review the existing arrangements for the safety and health of nearly all persons at work and to see where and how the arrangements could be improved. I was glad that the noble Lord drew attention to the fact that also to be covered was the effect on the public of the activities of people at work.

We are hoping to learn a great deal from this Committee of Inquiry. Its terms of reference are very wide, and it will be questioning and testing the present system, root and branch. It will be looking at the scope and nature of the major relevant enactments and considering whether any changes are needed in them; it will be examining the nature and extent of voluntary action in the field and whether there is the right balance at present between voluntary action and legislation; and it will be looking at the safety and health of the general public insofar as they are affected by the activities of people at work. Lord Robens has indicated that he is anxious for the Committee to accomplish its task as rapidly as possible. All the same, the task is both vast and complex and at the moment the Committee's work is still in its early stages. They have invited a number of Government Departments and organisations having special interests, experience or responsibilities in the field of occupational safety and health to submit their written evidence by the end of next month.

The Committee's report should provide us with a firm basis for the activities in this field for many years ahead, and I have no doubt that the Committee will take careful note of all the points made in the present debate—indeed the debate will doubtless be read with interest by many people concerned with industrial health and safety, in the Government Departments concerned, in the voluntary organisations in the field, in management and in the trade unions.

My Lords, what I think I can most usefully do now is to give some account of what is being done about the prevention of industrial accidents and diseases; and later I shall do my best to answer specific points that may be raised in the debate. Your Lordships, I am sure, will show your customary indulgence to a Minister who is dealing for the first time with a subject of which he has very little experience.

First, I should like to say something about the Factory Inspectorate. There has been, as the noble Lord has said, a good deal of speculation about the inadequate number of inspectors. There is perhaps some tendency to assume that all we need to do to reduce the number of accidents is to increase the number of inspectors. Of course, it is not as simple as that. Inspectorates and other official agencies cannot prevent accidents and industrial diseases. All that they can do is to influence the minds of management and workers in two ways: first by the routine process of inspecting individual establishments and by enforcing the law, in the main by persuading the occupier of the need for compliance as a matter of good practice, rather than by prosecution (I will come back to what the noble Lord said about this); and secondly, by action designed to prevent hazards arising in the first place—for example, by influencing machine designers or the substitution of harmless materials for toxic ones in a factory process. What is the optimum size of the Inspectorate at any point in time is a matter of judgment and this question is always under consideration. The fact is that the size of the Inspectorate has increased very markedly in recent years. It has grown from 493, at about the time the noble Lord initiated the debate in 1967, to 701; that is, an increase of over 200 in four years.

The Factory Inspectorate is well equipped with specialists. It has specialised engineering, electrical, civil engineering, and medical and chemical branches with their extensive laboratories. With the help of these specialists the Inspectorate is constantly keeping watch on new hazards as they develop in industry, cooperating with industry to try to forestall the hazards, and giving technical guidance to employers. This co-operative thinking matures from time to time in the formulation of regulations. My Lords, the noble Lord criticised the time that was taken to get regulations through. The procedure under the Factories Act for making special regulations is, as he knows, determined by Schedule 4 to the Act, and this is a very slow process requiring an inquiry if objections are made and not withdrawn. It is both costly and also time-consuming. For these reasons the Department makes a practice of circulating a preliminary draft to interested bodies with a view to producing a statutory draft which will be generally accepted. This practice ensures adequate consultation and resolves in advance many questions that might arise, and so hastens the procedures.

In the case of the asbestos regulations the major users were first informed in October, 1966, of the Department's intention to introduce them. Consideration of their replies enabled a preliminary draft to be circulated in May, 1967. More than 250 comments were received as a result of the issue of this draft and numerous meetings followed with the organisations concerned. The next time the draft regulations were sent out some further points arose and the process had to be gone through again. So I think it would be true to say that the last Government and this Government take the view that if you are going to get out important regulations of this kind you should do your best to get them right and accept the delay. It was not that the existing regulations were so impotent; they were not. In fact these regulations, as the noble Lord said, came into operation in May of this year.

Of course, a lot has been learned about the long-term effect on health of exposure to asbestos, especially crocidolite, or "blue" asbestos, and it has also become clear that serious hazards are not confined to asbestos factories but are also met, for example, in the installation or removal of asbestos linings to ships decks; and the noble Lord mentioned the Devonport example. The new regulations apply to building operations, shipbuilding, ship-repairing and docks as well as factories. They impose stringent requirements for the provision of respiratory protection; cleaning of plant and premises; construction of new buildings; storage and distribution of asbestos; notification of the use of crocidolite; and for the more precise control of dust which is made possible by developments in measuring techniques and in medical knowledge. The inspectors carry measuring instruments with them. If compliance with the new regulations is achieved there is reason to believe that the danger to health will be under control. The industry itself has made great efforts through the Asbestosis Research Council to give publicity to these regulations, and the Factory Inspectorate has provided speaker" for discussions throughout the country. In addition, guidance has been given in a booklet Asbestos: Health Precautions in Industry, and a leaflet Standards for Asbestos Dust Concentration, published by the Department.

The noble Lord went on to criticise particular aspects of the work of the inspectors. As I said, the view is held that the best course for the inspectors to take is to attempt, in the first instance at any rate, to persuade managements to comply with the regulations. One could quote particular examples where over a period they have failed to persuade the management. No doubt they have always thought they had persuaded them and the result was going to come. It is a difficult case of judgment as to when to crack down and to say, "No more." I would agree that in the special case the noble Lord mentioned it might well have been that the inspector ought to have cracked down sooner; but, as I say, this is a difficult case of judgment. It is always very easy to be wise after the event.

If I may say so to the noble Lord, I thought he dealt with the subject with great delicacy in view of the present situation—that there is a case which is still sub judice. All I can say is that the efforts of the Inspectorate to keep a close understanding with industry means that it is better for them in the normal way to proceed by persuasion, although we fully recognise that the time will come when it does all industry a great deal of good if a prosecution is brought and condign punishment awarded.

There are a number of sets of regulations which will come into operation in the near future. One is the Abrasive Wheels Regulations and there are other regulations in preparation which indicate the kind of work which is being done. They deal with the use of benzene, with highly flammable liquids, with the need for protective footwear and gaiters in foundries, and with ladders; and they revise the existing Woodworking Machinery Regulations, Protection of Eyes Regulations and Docks Regulations. Nobody can say that the Department of Employment is idle in these matters, or, to quote the noble Lord—I thought it was one of the few "loose balls" that he bowled—that "nobody seems to bother about these accidents." On consideration, I do not think that the noble Lord would say that that applies to the Department of Employment.

Another example of this kind of activity is in the field of occupational cancer. The Industrial Health Advisory Committee, which advises the Secretary of State for Employment and has representatives on both sides of industry, has a sub-committee to deal with carcinogens in industry. Particular attention is at present being given to cancer caused by the use of cutting oils, and industry is being encouraged to identify and develop safer oils in engineering. As the noble Lord well knows, under the Mule Spinning Regulations, 1953, the substitution of oils of animal or vegetable origin or white oil has virtually eliminated the problem in the cotton industry. This, of course, is the best result of all. In the meantime, a great deal of publicity is being given to the problem in engineering. The Senior Medical Inspector contributed an article on "Oil and the Skin" to the Chief Inspector of Factories' Report for 1967. This made a widespread impression and the Engineering Employers' Federation issued some thousands of copies to member firms. The Department of Employment has issued the best part of a million copies of a leaflet giving workers the necessary advice and containing coloured illustrations of a quite uninhibited kind to enable them to identify cancer of the skin and, in particular, cancer of the scrotum caused by oil.

The Inspectorate have been in close touch with the manufacturers of enzyme washing powders since questions involving workers employed in their manufacture were raised, and I am sure that noble Lords will wish to know that the industry has set up its own committee and is now working to greatly improved standards of environmental control and maintaining appropriate medical supervision. The Inspectorate is keeping a close watch on these processes.

Some advance is also being made in the matter of noise in industry to which the noble Lord referred and which was the subject of a special chapter in the Chief Inspector's Report for 1969. In March, 1970, a report was published of research into hearing and noise in industry undertaken jointly by the Medical Research Council and the National Physical Laboratory. It has filled an important gap in our knowledge by indicating the relationship between certain levels of noise and the duration of exposure to them, on the one hand, and the impairment of hearing, on the other. Since then the Industrial Health Advisory Committee has set up a sub-committee, on which the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry are both represented, to consider what action should be taken to prevent loss of hearing by employed persons due to industrial noise. A survey of noise in industry is to be conducted by the Factory Inspectorate on behalf of the sub-committee.

I think that I should say a word or two about fire precautions. The Secretary of State for Employment, in consultation with the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, is at present looking into the whole question of fire precautions in industrial and commercial premises. He has promised the T.U.C. that he will arrange discussions with both sides of industry before decisions are reached in these matters. Action has already been taken to put into effect the lessons learned from the disastrous fire at an upholstery factory in Glasgow in November, 1968 (which your Lordships have discussed in another connection), when 22 persons lost their lives. Factory inspectors and fire officers have checked fire precautions at all upholstery works. They have also arranged to make annual visits to other industrial premises where a fire could result in serious danger to life, and have advised occupiers as to the removal of bars from windows in appropriate cases.

I have referred to action taken following disasters, but that is not because a catastrophe has to occur before action is taken: it is simply that disasters are news and are long remembered, while, clearly, accidents prevented by precautionary action cannot be used, simply because they never happen. Yet careful thought and anticipation are daily preventing accidents.

One broad approach is that of research into accident causation. In 1966, the Department of Employment and the Ministry of Technology jointly commissioned from the National Institute of Industrial Psychology a comparative study of accident causation in industry. This study, which was carried out in four separate workshops, was spread over three and a half years, from 1966 to 1969. It involved continuous observation and recording of conditions by observers, who moved around in each workshop and stayed for at least a year. The report is now being studied by the sponsoring Departments.

A small accident studies unit was set up in May, 1970, to make a study in depth of a number of factories to try to learn more of the underlying reasons for the very high accident incidence rates in some factories and in some localities. The unit will also look for the reasons why some factories and some industries have been more successful than others in keeping down or even reducing their accident rates.

Another important approach to the accident problem is to encourage the growth of joint consultation on safety within industry between the managements and workers of individual establishments. The Government are convinced of the importance of this objective, although: as I have already mentioned, they are not convinced that compulsion is the right method. They agree with the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, from this Bench as recently as February, 1968, that it is preferable, if possible, to proceed by voluntary means.

The Industrial Safety Advisory Council, which advises the Secretary of State for Employment on industrial safety and represents both sides of industry, has a sub-committee on joint consultation machinery. This has sought to encourage the establishment of joint safety committees in factories by voluntary means. Guidance on the methods of setting up joint safety committees has been issued, and in 1967 and 1969 the Factory Inspectorate conducted surveys to measure progress in setting up arrangements for joint safety consultation. These showed that substantial progress had been made. In May, 1967, not much more than a third of the factories with over 50 workers had joint consultation arrangements, but by March, 1969, the proportion had risen to nearly one half. By the latter date over 80 per cent. of the factories with over 500 workers had such arrangements. The figure is taken down by the number of factories with a smaller number of employees.

One of the most important means of preventing accidents is through safety training. Here the industrial training boards play an important role. Training recommendations and other guidance by boards contain appropriate references to safety, health and other allied matters. In addition, as a general rule boards grant-aid employers who send their workers on safety courses, or on courses with some safety content, so long as they are occupationally relevant. Nominated factory inspectors with a special knowledge of the industry concerned are made available to boards to advise them on safety problems. It is up to industry to make the best use of this training. I am afraid that too often we hear of the wrong people being sent on courses or of ineffective arrangements for making the best use of training after a person has been sent on a course; but this is always apt to happen with large-scale training, as many of your Lordships remember from wartime days.

Having said this, I do not want to give the impression that safety activity goes on only after official agencies have done some prodding. On the contrary, a great deal of steam is generated spontaneously within industry itself. For example, the National Federation of Building Trades Employers has recently issued a comprehensive manual on safety and has equipped three mobile exhibitions, which are taken to sites and used to point out to workpeople the risks they run and the precautions needed.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the British Safety Council continue to give valuable help in making both sides of industry aware of the vital part they have to play. In the current issue of the British Safety Council's journal, Safety and Rescue, I see a picture of the noble Lord. Lord Collison, presenting a cup to the editor of the Railway Review, the weekly newspaper of the National Union of Railwaymen. The cup is the Collison Cup, which is to be awarded annually to the trade union publication giving the widest coverage of safety affairs. This seems to me a very good thing.

My Lords, I have tried to show the real efforts that are being made by management, by the Government, by industrial training boards, by voluntary societies and by employees, to reduce the number of preventable accidents. Accidents happen to people. They can be prevented only by people—by good management, good workers, good training, good discipline and good sense: in two short phrases, by exercising foresight and by taking care.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, in view of the unexpectedly lengthy early proceedings, I am afraid that it will not be possible for me to stay to the end of the debate, and I hope that the House will see no implied discourtesy in that.

I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Crook, for bringing this subject before your Lordships' House. His concern and interest in the matter of accidents is well known and we are grateful to him because he has been able to initiate a full-scale debate to-day. As he has pointed out, it is not a subject which has much glamour and is one which often goes by default; yet I can think of nothing that is more important and essential for your Lordships to discuss fully.

This is an occasion when we ought to pay tribute to the Chief Inspector and to his Inspectorate and to thank him for the Report which is before us. This is a most remarkable document. It is a mine of information of every kind. But beneath it lies this volume of work which is going on day after day on behalf of his Inspectorate. They are untiring in their work of examining the safety precautions, bringing negligence to the notice of authority, occasionally bringing cases to court, and of exercising unceasing vigilance for the safety and care of the men who are involved in dangerous production processes. This work seldom receives any public acknowledgement except on an occasion like this, and I hope that your Lordships' House will offer that commendation to the Factory Inspectorate. We have read with great satisfaction of the increased number of people who have volunteered for the work and also the recruitment. This is all to the good.

I hope also that we may take this opportunity of expressing our gratitude to the many institutions of one kind or another that are concerned with the promotion of safety. I am thinking particularly of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, which looks with expert and unceasing concern into the matter of accidents, and whose work obviously is doing so much good. Despite all this work, despite the co-operation of employers, this Report reveals a serious state of affairs. However much we may try to rationalise or explain the figures, they are there for all to see. One does not want to bemuse the House with facts and figures, but it seems to me that just two of them speak a volume. One is that between 1963 and 1970 the figure for accidents went up from 204,000 to 322,000, an increase of approximately 120,000 in seven years. The other fact is one that is unpalatable, and not often heard; that is, that as I understand it more days are lost through accidents than through industrial disputes, either official or unofficial.

Why should this be so? This is not a case of wicked employers who are feeding human lives into the furnaces of the industrial machine, regardless of their interests and rights. Nor is it a case of wilfully stupid and obtuse employees who will not listen to the advice that they are receiving and exercise the proper common sense. I see in these figures one aspect of the greater problem which confronts society, the problem to discover how, in an increasingly mechanised world, we can protect, preserve and honour the sense of human dignity, the sense of the value of the individual person. What we need above all is a philosophy of man which sees in any hurt to a person, spiritual, mental or physical, something which is unworthy and is harmful to the welfare of us all.

Much work in these days is degrading to the individual because it deprives him of initiative, and gives him little use for personal skills. He becomes bored, frustrated, tired, careless and reckless. This is the breeding ground for most of the accidents that take place. Much can be done by the system of law to combat this situation. A system of strict inspection and an enforcement by fines can go a certain way towards remedying the problem. But it goes so far and no farther. The co-operation of employers is essential. Some of them provide only a minimum of equipment, and a minimum of training in first-aid, and in knowing what to do when a person is confronted by an accident. Many other employers spend a great deal of money in providing expensive protective material and in publicising the way in which accidents can be avoided, and so on. Some of them undo their good work by providing high bonus rates for work which encourages the removal of some of the protective clothing. There are some things, for instance, which can only be done quickly by removing protective gloves. Sometimes in order to do faster work safety guards will be taken away. Sometimes the lifting of loads beyond the safety weight is encouraged because of the bonus rates that are offered. These things need to be watched.

When all is said and done, the ultimate cure comes down to the individual person. I am quite sure that none of us can be smug about this. I felt a good deal of hesitation in taking part in this debate at all, for two reasons; first because one knows, and I am sure noble Lords know, how frequently we ourselves do stupid things which could so easily lead to a accident, in just the same way as they can arise in a factory. One gets on a chair which one knows to be shaky in order to get a book off a high shelf, and in order to pick fruit in the garden one gets on a ladder which it is known is not properly secured. It is just the same carelessness which leads to accidents in factories. Therefore, none of us can be happy about giving advice to other people. When we are at the wheel of our motor-cars we are the victims of machines, and how many of us know how easy it is to be foolish, careless and the cause of accidents to ourselves and to other people.

Another misgiving I had was that I have never worked on the shop floor, and it ill-becomes anybody to give advice to those who have. The nearest I have ever come to working on a shop floor was when I was serving in one of His Majesty's ships during the war. I remember so well the elaborate and extensive gear with which we were issued to protect us from some of the dangers of explosion. Yet in the Eastern Mediterranean how easy it was to refuse to put on this rather complicated and very hot apparatus. One needed to see the effect of someone who had been subjected to flash, who had extensive surface burns, to realise how terrible were the effects of not using what we had been given, and how sensible one would be in future to make better use of these things. Yet, so soon afterwards one became forgetful. One wonders how often one has to be faced with a real and tragic situation before those who have no imagination can be saved from these things.

There is need for a constant and ever-renewing campaign of information and education. Notices soon become out of date, posters on factory walls become tatty, and people take no more notice of them than they do of the pattern on the wallpaper in the sitting-room at home. There has to be a constantly renewed campaign of education. I think, for instance, of the admirable campaign for road safety which was on television for some weeks with very well produced cartoons which brought quickly to mind the way in which one ought to behave with regard to safety on the roads. I imagine that a campaign of that kind would be so expensive that it would be beyond the capacity of any of the voluntary societies. One would hope that this is something that the Government would sponsor, so that there is an ever-present warning 10 all those who are concerned in industry of the danger of accidents, the ease with which they may be created and the regrets which are great to so many people. For it is only so that we shall be able to bring home to all that accidents which are the result of carelessness are an affront to the personality, to the value that we set upon Man. With our own personal experiences, and those of people who are indirectly the victims of accidents, we know how terrible this affront can be. But as we learn to respect human personality, so we shall learn to avoid those occasions which are ultimately an affront to Man's welfare and his dignity.

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, having listened to the right reverend Prelate's plea and to the speech of my noble friend Lord Crook, I feel that this debate represents an anachronism. We have managed to reach another planet; our scientists everyday make discoveries which inspire the world. Yet again it is necessary for us to get up and make what is, after all, a simple plea for clean air in our factories. I put it as simply as that, because I shall discuss asbestosis again in a moment.

Two or three years ago my noble friend made a speech very similar to the one he has made to-day, asking that action should be taken to protect helpless men and women who were captive in a factory and compelled to breathe toxic air. We hear now from the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, on the opposite Bench—and may I say in parenthesis that I want to congratulate the noble Lord on his promotion, and to say how wise are the Government to promote a man who has energy, compassion and a capacity to expound a subject. I can only say about his speech this afternoon, however, that he did his best with a very bad brief. He knows it as well as I do. He was Minister of National Insurance; so was I. He was in contact with industrial injuries and he knows that it is really deplorable that we should have to come here in 1970 and make more or less the same speeches we made earlier in defence of these poor helpless creatures.

In this day of protest and revolt, if the men and women we are talking about now, dying with asbestosis, dying with some of these diseases which can be prevented, adopted the modern method they would protest; and we should then find that the Department responsible adopted an entirely different attitude. Action would take place; memos would pass through the Department: "We must do something! People suffering from asbestosis are going to demonstrate in Trafalgar Square next Sunday." But we are talking to-day of forgotten men and women who are diseased, who have lost all their capacity to protest. But, more than that, they are fearful; they are afraid. They are afraid of the future. Not only are they afraid of death, but they wonder just how their families will be kept. They wonder whether visible endowment will be forthcoming. So it is quite easy for this particular category of workers, those suffering from industrial injuries and accidents, to be handled without any sense of urgency whatsoever. That is my condemnation to-day. It is an anachronism. To think that we should be making speeches similar to those we made in the last century!

Industrial accidents and industrial diseases are as old as industry itself. Any individual who decides to enter industry should be conscious of the fact that he is going to handle men and women who are working with dangerous machines and in a dangerous atmosphere. Year after year too many compliments have been paid to those people who are responsible for ensuring that these men and women are protected. I would say that the latest Report is a condemnation of the system, for the number of reported accidents in factories in Great Britain in 1969 again rose: there was an increase over the previous year of 32 per cent. The real tragedy lies in the fact that most of these accidents and diseases are preventable.

The noble Lord mentioned noise. Something is going to be done about it. The Chief Inspector of Factories said that rehousing in high blocks of flats has made noise from adjacent factories a serious problem for occupants, particularly at night. Nobody disputes this. But what of the factory workers themselves who are subject all their lives to incessant noise and who begin to lose their hearing at a comparatively early age? I represented the Warrington constituency, and when I held my surgery there week after week some man of about 40 would come in who was hard of hearing. When I, as a doctor, said to him, "You ought to be hearing clearly", he, poor creature, completely fatalistically would say, "My father's hearing went at 40, and he said his grandfather's went at about 30, and they were in the same factory." My Lords, how can we accept these conditions and the complacency which I feel we have heard demonstrated—no, I will not say that that has been completely so this afternoon; but I do think that there has been an attempt to gloss over this problem.

My noble friend will recall the occasion, some years ago, when Lord Taylor was here and we had hours of debate on the whole subject of noise. The tragedy about deafness is that this condition is permanent when it occurs, perhaps at age 40, and it causes untold misery to the victim. It seems that the word "pollution" is now fashionable. We hear speeches on pollution in all kinds of unlikely places. The people we are speaking about to-day have suffered pollution all their working lives—the pollution of noise. They have suffered pollution since the beginning of the last century, since the introduction of industry. But it seems that now that the better-off are recognising that the noise reaches their tender ears—and as a consequence of being better off they are more influential—the sufferers are finding that much more attention is being paid to noise. I would ask this question, having listened to the noble Lord very carefully. I should like to know precisely what this new investigation is and whether it is similar to what I am suggesting.

Noise, as everybody knows, distracts and disturbs, and at the same time the number of accidents continues to rise. I should therefore like to know whether one elementary line of research has been followed; namely, to record the relationship between the accident rate and the degree of noise in a factory. It would be interesting to learn at the same time how absenteeism and time lost through accidents varies according to the degree of noise in a factory. In my opinion, this nuisance would deter the return of the near-convalescent worker. I know that if I were convalescent after some illness or disease I should be reluctant to go back to a din which made my whole nervous system tense all day long. These are some of the investigations that should be made. Perhaps if we discovered that what I have suggested is so, those who are responsible for putting these matters right would take more notice. They would realise that absenteeism was related to the degree of noise.

In the Factory Inspector's Report I was astonished to read this statement: The inclusion in this Report of a chapter on noise at least shows that a start has been made. In 1970, my Lords, we are told that a start has been made. I can only say to that: "About time, too!", because it was in the nineteenth century that occupational deafness first came to be recognised; and as my noble friend knows, we have time after time raised this question of noise. We have received the same kind of answers: that the Department is well aware that this is a form of pollution from which we suffer, and so on, and we are told to-day in the Report that we should all be glad to hear that a start has been made.

Now I come to other questions. Some publicity has been given to a condition suffered by workers making the much publicised enzyme washing powders. This serves to emphasise again the potential dangers in the widespread use of chemicals and gases in modern industrial processes. The second Question on the Order Paper today referred to a toxic pesticide. These poisons are used in the service industries and in agriculture, and I feel that we should issue warnings again and again of the dangers in them. For instance, chlorine is used for water purification, ammonia for refrigeration, sulphur dioxide for bleaching, hydrogen cyanide for fumigation. Vapours are given off by solvents used by dry cleaners, and fumes are given off from sprays used as pesticides and from fertilizers.

Unfortunately, people regard all these as being commonplace matters. We have heard of it. As I have said, no doubt every noble Lord in this House knows it, but we have to recognise that there are people who work with these things and who are making these things eight hours a day. No doubt there are those, accustomed to industry, who know the requirements of the Factories Acts, but it is necessary to ensure that newcomers should be frequently reminded of the regulations designed to protect the workers. I should like to hear more about this. Just what does the newcomer to industry, the bright young man who is full of energy and push and who decides to go into industry, know about such matters, except that if he puts some money and time into it he may earn a high profit?

Now I come to the question of asbestos. We have drawn attention in previous debates to the dangers associated with the asbestos industry. Professor Schilling's Institute has published the result of a survey of 4,000 workers showing a significant risk of cancer, even after a short working period. Many people believe that it is necessary to breathe this dust for many years before one becomes infected, but the pathologists say that a comparatively short working period in this dust is all that is necessary before malignancy begins to appear. There is now a very high death rate from asbestosis and other lung diseases. It seems deplorable that such slow progress has been made in providing adequate protection against a potentially malignant disease which everybody knows all about.

When I heard to-day about how these regulations had been handed, I suppose, from one Department to another, year after year passing, without ever being put into operation I was appalled at the complete lack of compassion of the men who read these regulations and who know that they are dealing with people suffering from a malignant condition of the lung which stems from breathing air impregnated with asbestos. Where is their compassion? Do they just sit at desks and say, "Here is another memo. Pass it on"? If these regulations, which have been delayed in this criminal way, had been put into operation when we were pleading about asbestos a few years ago they would have saved lives. They would not only have saved lives, they would have saved the misery and the worry and the unhappiness of the families of the workers.


My Lords, I wonder if the noble Baroness will allow me to interrupt her. I am grateful to her, and I wish just to say that of course it was not the case that there were no regulations in force. There were Asbestos Regulations, and they have been in force for a very long time; and had these regulations been applied in particular cases a great number of lives would no doubt have been saved. The object of this further study was to get regulations that were both practicable and safe, and it was worth while working at them in order to try to do both.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that I should not have minded which regulations were used so long as they were made operative. But what on earth is the good of having regulations which, as he said, are effective if nobody troubles to make them operative? Here again, these new regulations may be even more effective; but surely there are regulations in existence which could have been used but were not, and as a result these ignorant, simple people suffered. The noble Lord himself gave a graphic description of them sweeping up the dust on the floor which was impregnated with asbestos, of this dust rising in the air and being breathed in by these ignorant, simple people who thought they were just brushing up the floor after a dusty day. It is a horrifying picture.

I now come to another and entirely different point. I certainly welcome the investigation that is being made into the physical, psychological and social effect of shift work. I am always sorry for a shift worker, but I must confess that a doctor who has worked day and night, and who was brought up in a home where the father worked day and night, regards shift work in an entirely different way. Undoubtedly shift work does affect what doctors call the "bodily rhythms" and many workers find themselves, net suffering from a contagious disease, or anything like that, but in a state in which their whole psyche and their physical condition seem to be undermined. Not only, of course, is shift work not very pleasant, but it upsets the whole of the family life, and so the family generally has to adjust its way of life to father's shift.

One reason why I am glad that this investigation is taking place is because I feel it will serve as a pointer to the unwisdom of making equal pay dependent upon women doing night work. I am not pleading for discrimination between the sexes. I can quite clearly prove that women have been accustomed to doing night work because although, ever since nursing was established as a respectable job for girls, nurses have always been paid at a miserable rate, nobody has ever objected—neither the nurses themselves nor the public—to nurses' doing essential night work. So I think we can establish the fact that there never has been discrimination and protection for women. But what I am saying is that the woman in industry is often married, with children, and it is unrealistic to argue that her total work day, let us call it, can be equated with that of a man on the same factory floor. She cleans the house, she cooks, she looks after her husband and her children, and the value of these services to the community has never been estimated. They are not only services to her family, they are services to the community, because she again is looking after another worker, her husband, in the house. By making equal pay dependent on night work is to expose her to pressures from her employer, from a feckless, perhaps heartless, husband who is extravagant and wants extra money, although this means his wife will work at night. And the woman will not have the strength to refuse these pressures.

Therefore I think it is necessary for the Government to protect her. If she is on night work, whatever time she arrives home in the morning she will feel it her duty to get breakfast for the family, to see the children off to school and probably to go shopping for the next meal. Every married woman, whether in industry, office or profession, already does two jobs and she is only too happy to do two jobs; she does the job outside the home and the job inside the home. I believe that to impose a night shift on the woman worker would be heartless.

I come to my final point, and I am glad to see some farmers on our Benches. I particularly welcome the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, because I know the subject I am going to mention is written on his heart; and I am also glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, here. In these debates we generally direct our attention to the industrial hazards in the factory and on the shop floor. I should like to champion those who work in more isolated communities, namely, the agricultural workers, whose comparative isolation has been responsible for the slow growth in trade unionism and protective legislation. The agricultural worker has always been rather lonely, and we all recall the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Of course he has advanced, but still he has not the same protection as the urban worker.

In the course of the last two Sessions, with my noble friend Lord Rowallan as the chairman, a group of us have sought to urge the Minister of Agriculture to expedite the plans to eliminate brucellosis, which is an occupational disease of the agricultural worker. Of course, people other than agricultural workers can suffer from brucellosis; they generally have drunk milk either in the countryside or milk which has been brought up to a town which has come from a brucella infected cow. This disease is not new; it may well have been the disease described by Hippocrates in 450 B.C.; but it has been recognised in the Mediterranean area in more modern times, for the causative organism was discovered by Sir David Bruce in 1884, hence the name.

The incidence of human brucellosis in this country is unknown, as neither the human nor the cattle disease is notifiable. The condition in cattle is known as contagious abortion. I am sorry to say that there are even farmers in this House who have had an abortion storm in their herd, which has filled them with alarm and despondency. As I say, this is not notifiable in cattle, although the vet may attend the abortion and may guess or know what it is; nevertheless, it is not notifiable. Cattle are the only reservoir of infection in this country, and, as I say, man is infected either by drinking their milk or by handling infected cows. So that is where the agricultural worker comes in. He is in close contact with the infected cow. He even has to remove the fœtus and even remove the excreta, and he is very vulnerable to infection. Therefore, I say that if the worker is exposed in his work to an infection of this kind and develops the disease it should be notifiable in him as well as in the animals, and it should also be scheduled as an industrial disease.

My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn knows as well as I do that to get a disease scheduled as an industrial disease calls for a lot of pressure on the part of people who recognise that it is only fair and just that it should be scheduled. That pressure has not been forthcoming, in my opinion, on behalf of the agricultural worker. The agricultural worker in the past has been used to unemployment. He has been alone; he has been sick and has suspected what he might have got, but he has got better and got on with the job. I think the time has now come when a different attitude should be adopted. The noble Lord knows as well as I do that generally the argument against making a disease notifiable is difficulty of diagnosis. We went through it over pneumoconiosis and byssinosis, all the chest diseases attributed to dust of some kind, and of course emphysema associated with some of these chest diseases, and always the pathologists and doctors and those for some reason or other opposed to this form of progress said, "This is very difficult to diagnose; we cannot be sure whether this particular disease can be attributable to such-and-such a thing."

The same is happening with brucellosis. Of course, a blood test can be made. I am asking the Minister—and I am very pleased that the noble Lord is there because of his experience of industrial diseases—to recall that when we finally used to make certain diseases scheduled we usually found that the general practitioner exercised greater vigilance, because he knew it was notifiable, and thereby gave the sick man greater protection. I want precisely this protection for the farm worker. Just because he is isolated, why should he not be given the same protection as the urban worker might have? I am not a voice crying in the wilderness. The Agricultural Workers' Union have repeatedly asked for this to be done and Lord Collison—he was President of the Union—in our last debate asked whether the Minister would consider scheduling it. I ask the Minister to-day whether he will give it his own personal consideration.

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, before I contribute to your Lordships' debate to-day I should like to add my congratulations to those of my noble friend to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, on his promotion to the Front Bench. I have had the agreeable experience for, I suppose, nearly five years of debating many subjects with him, some of which I understood and some of which I did not, and particularly when I did not understand to perfection he always treated me with great courtesy and kindness. From this side of the looking glass I look forward to many future debates with him. I would join him in the congratulations he gave to my noble friend Lord Crook for giving us the opportunity to-day to debate this very important subject.

My noble friend's speech was informed and concerned, and having prepared myself for this debate by reading some of his earlier speeches I realise why he spoke with such knowledge and such concern. Quite clearly, he is conducting a crusade, and to-day the publication of the Report of the Chief Inspector has given him the opportunity once again to awaken our consciences on a most difficult and important subject. I should like to join him in congratulating Her Majesty's present Administration on continuing in existence the Robens Committee, in supporting it and giving it an important rôle to play. I know that publication of the Report of that Committee will give noble Lords, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Crook, another opportunity to debate this important subject.

In general, I suppose we are all against sin; and we are all against accidents wherever they occur, whether in the factory, to the body or to the health, or in shops and offices. But the reason why we are debating this subject—anachronistically, as my noble friend has said—is the imperfection of human beings. We may be able to perfect machines, but perfecting the human animal is a little more difficult, because I suppose that what we are really doing is fighting against apathy and ignorance. In all of us I think there is a strong fatalistic streak: that if something is going to happen to us, well, it is going to happen to us and there is not much we can do about it. As the right reverend Prelate said, we all do silly things. We get into motor cars fitted with safety belts and do not put them on. Our whole life is a chain of minor stupidities, and from time to time we suffer from them.

If we fail to look after ourselves it is not surprising that in the social organisations of the factory and the office carelessness, slackness and apathy come creeping in unless they are constantly combated. The only ways to combat this apathy are first of all by education, and secondly by enforcement. Both sides of industry are responsible; but as my noble friend has pointed out, the main responsibility must lie with management. After all, they are responsible for the organisation of the factory or the office. Unfortunately, they often fail to realise their responsiblities. In speeches made earlier my noble friend pointed to glaring examples of gross negligence by managements of important undertakings. This is entirely inexcusable, because unless management lead it is difficult for the trade unions to collaborate with them.

It is essential that management should provide the means of preventing accidents, and should explain the need for, and how to use, the various safety precautions. But, of course, some response must also come from the trade union movement. Again, apathy exists on that side of the house. I was a Member for a mining constituency shortly after nationalisation, and at that time one complaint that one heard in and around the pits concerned the number of non-miners who were coming into the pits—the safety officers and so on. At that time the importance of these new staff members was not appreciated by the mining community; it was thought to be a case of "jobs for the boys"—white-collar workers with not much understanding of what the whole business of coal getting was all about. Thanks to the energetic leadership of Lord Roberts and the mines management, however, their existence became accepted, their work became accepted; and to-day we have heard of the dramatic drop in accidents in the pits in this country. This is a success story, and it was achieved by fighting and overcoming apathy.

Because of the need to associate the trade union movement positively with the work of creating a safer environment, I regret that the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill did not reach the Statute Book as intended. I was particularly attracted by the second main object of the Bill, which was to give recognised trade unions the right to appoint safety representatives for factories and certain premises and processes subject to the Factories Act, and to further the establishment of joint safety committees". The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has stated the argument against setting up committees in the form proposed in this Bill, but in whatever legislation is brought out in the future I hope that the role of trade unions in combating apathy, in spreading the education necessary to avoid accidents, will be included, and that the important role which the unions have to play is recognised and given an outlet.

I have talked about the need for education, but at the end of the day enforcement of regulations is still the key. We can pass the best legislation in the world, either in the field of factory safety or in the field of pollution; but unless that legislation is enforced nothing comes of it—we might as well save our time in Parliament. So I particularly welcome that aspect of the Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector which stales that recruiting for the Inspectorate is improving. This is good news indeed, because it is the devoted body of men making up the Inspectorate who, at the end of the day, keep the weaker brethren awake to their responsibilities.

Another aspect of this matter is a proper enforcement organisation. That, of course, as has been pointed out by my noble friend, is where the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act falls down. Over 1,000 local authorities are responsible for enforcing this Act, yet there is no standard of safety common to all major authorities. Major firms like Salisbury's, or Marks and Spencer, have to obey quite different regulations in different parts of the country, and one can only hope that when the new legislation forecast by the noble Lord is brought into being, the weak enforcement machinery lying behind the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act is changed and strengthened, because at the moment it is clearly not functioning properly.

My Lords, we have spoken a great deal to-day about the suffering caused by accidents in the factory. But we should not forget also the cost. I believe it is correct to say that the number of man-hours lost through factory accidents is ten times that lost by strikes. The social cost of this must be very high indeed. I do not know whether it has been quantified, but it must be enormous. The only attempt to quantify the cost of accidents—I must say in a different field, but I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I quote it—is in a calculation made by the Treasury, which proved that if we gave a Mini-Minor to every young man riding a Vespa the country would save money because of the enormous cost to the country of repairing young men who crash with Vespas. This is an extraordinary statistic, but it indicates the tremendous social cost of accidents. It is for this reason that I wish to express to Her Majesty's Government, through the noble Lord opposite, the hope that when the Government continue their work on making economies in the machinery of Government they will spare the Inspectorate; because whatever the Inspectorate may cost, the savings, which are not quantifiable, must be enormously greater than that organisation's cash cost. I think to be penny wise in this field would be to be a thousand pounds foolish.

In addition to the need for education and enforcement, I should like to press the need for foresight, wherever this is possible. From time to time there are occasions when foresight does in fact prevent major disasters. We have heard this evening some very interesting discussions about asbestosis, and in particular about the risk of asbestosis that existed at Plymouth in the re-fitting of naval vessels. This was a case, in my view, where foresight might have prevented a great deal of sickness and saved some lives, because the studies that were going on in Plymouth at the time were in preparation for major re-fits of large ships, and in particular the "Ark Royal".

At the time I happened to be Chairman of the Whitley Council when the news broke suddenly that we were about to face a major health hazard. This was an occasion where both the staff side and the union side got together, and created equipment, training methods, and enforced procedures among the force of workpeople who were due to work on "Ark Royal" which in fact prevented the danger that might have come about when, I believe, 14 acres of limpet asbestos had to be stripped from inside that ship. The procedures laid down entailed providing every man with a source of breathing air from outside the ship. They had to work in masks; air had to be ducted in to them, and, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, this was a most uncomfortable way of working. However, the procedures were enforced and the ship was re-fitted successfully without, so far as we could discover, any damage to the health of the many hundreds, if not thousands, of men working in and around her. This was a case where foresight, based on research and carried into action immediately, must have removed a very major hazard to health.

At the same time I studied the problem in the major industries dealing in asbestos where the hazard had been recognised and where very stringent precautions are enforced, and it is interesting to note that no cases of mesothelioma have occurred. It is a dangerous environment, but it need not be dangerous if the actual safety procedures are carried out, and of course that is the role of education and enforcement. May I say once again that this debate has given us an opportunity first to congratulate the Chief tunity to congratulate the Chief Inspector and his Inspectorate on a very successful year's work, and also, I hope, has helped the noble Lord, Lord Crook, in his campaign to keep all our consciences awake.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, due to a long-standing speaking engagement in Surrey, and the inevitable re-arrangement of the business this afternoon, I must crave the indulgence of your Lordships in probably having to leave before the debate finishes. I particularly apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Crook, and to my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn. I should like, not for the first time, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Crook, for initiating this debate with his usual very wide practical knowledge, and also congratulate my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn on his well merited reappearance on the Front Bench, which I am sure is something we all acknowledge very happily.

The noble Baroness, Lady Summer-skill, said that we were debating this subject in a somewhat anachronistic manner, bearing in mind the progress which we have made on the moon, and so forth. This is, of course, true, but the home (which is my own particular side of this matter, so to speak, as I have been Chairman of the all-Party Parliamentary Home Safety Committee, and also, like other noble Lords who have spoken, a Vice President of RoSPA) the factory, the office, and the farm are all places where we have far too many accidents. The real question is what is to be done about all this. We have certainly debated this subject over the years in this House, and every now and again it is debated in another place. It seems to me that education is largely the answer.

I have not given my noble friend notice of the one or two questions which I should like to put, but if he will take note of them and in due course communicate with me, I shall be most grateful. The first question is as to what is being done, particularly in factories where, say, machine tools are manufactured, to give young apprentices a thorough grounding in safety: the wearing of proper shoes, the wearing of safety helmets where required and the wearing of gloves where required, because it seems to me—and as a management consultant I have, from time to time, visited such factories—that these safety regulations are not always abided by. Perhaps one of the more ironical things is that the more automation one gets in a factory or in an office, the more apathy there seems to be to the matter of safety. People think that, merely because a thing is automated, it is going to be correspondingly safe. Well, perhaps it is, but every now and again even the most modern piece of machinery may go wrong and cause an accident.

The second question, which is related to the first one, which I should like to put to my noble friend is whether film units are installed in some of the industrial areas. Perhaps part of the training course, particularly of the younger apprentices, could include film demonstrations. This is now done in the field of home safety under the Home Safety Act, which I had the privilege of helping to pilot through this House. It seems to me that, in the context of the office and of the factory, visual aids are all important. Anyone can give a talk on safety for half an hour or an hour which may be backed by long experience, but it is the visual aid, the sight of seeing the effect of an accident on somebody who has not worn a safety helmet and has had a slab of concrete fall on him, or has not worn an eye shield and has had acid in his eyes, which will be, even if very horrific and upsetting, far more convincing.

The real trouble about the whole question of safety—and the figures certainly make sad reading in many cases—is apathy. There has been modernisation of our factories, which we are all very pleased to see, and there has been modernisation of the coalmines and offices. But, speaking as one who spent twenty years in the insurance industry, I think that some of the offices, even those in the City of London, are still very substandard. One hopes that eventually something will be done under the 1963 Act to put this right, but the fact is that, even in the more modern offices, we have still not eliminated accidents.

I should like to ask one question about the provision of first-aid under Section 24 of the 1963 Act. Are the Government satisfied that offices and factories are adhering to the provisions of that Act? I may be doing someone an injustice and, if so, I apologise, but I do not think that the first-aid provisions are being adhered to in some of the offices and factories which I have visited, and this may need looking into. But in the last analysis this is not so much a question of whether management or worker is to blame. The whole problem of safety in the home, in the office and everywhere else is a question of education and getting it over at an early age to the child, to the apprentice or to the clerk that one can never take chances.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Crook, for giving us an opportunity of talking about some of these matters—life and death matters so far as the worker is concerned—which face a worker every day of his life. I do not intend going over all the ground already covered, which would be rather tedious and boring, nor do I propose to make a long speech. What I want to do for a short time is to say something about accidents at work, especially those accidents which appear to have occurred because of human failure on the part of worker or management.

We know that the Factories Acts provide for a standard of safety, although, as has been said, there appears to be plenty of room for improvement there. And I accept that legislation cannot make everyone engaged in industry sharpen his awareness that one false step can result in serious injury or death. One cannot legally compel a worker to look before he leaps, or to think before acting, but legislation cart and should insist that it is not enough for management to rest on the negative aspects of the Factories Acts. Management should be required to adopt a far more positive attitude, in focusing the attention of all concerned with these dangers on the fact that serious injury or death may result from a moment's thoughtlessness.

We all get tired of being preached at, and I sometimes wonder whether constant exhortation and preaching does not very often defeat its own purpose. What is needed is not so much preaching at workers or management, but more involvement. Experience shows that if one can involve workers in a certain aspect of industrial life, that does far more good than constantly preaching and putting up posters. That is why I want to see more works safety committees, where workers and management can be involved in doing something about this problem rather than passively and often negatively looking at a poster and then forgetting it completely.

When workers are not involved they do not much care, and everyone ought to know that by now, for a variety of reasons. It is perhaps trite to say this, but many an accident might have been averted and a life saved if workers had been trained to be aware of what they might meet and of what they ought to do in order to avoid a high percentage of the accidents which occur to-day. Many a management might have saved itself a lot of trouble and many a life might have been saved if workers were trained to be accident conscious. Workers must be involved not only in accidents but in work study and a hundred and one aspects of industrial life, and one is then halfway to success. It is no good standing away and shouting at them through a megaphone.

The need for these safety committees has been recognised for a long time by both trade unions and Governments. Over the years, many employers and Governments have insisted on the voluntary principle being sacrosanct, although the figures of injuries and deaths are constantly rising. What worries me is that, in spite of the escalation of these figures, we still insist that the workers in an industrial undertaking can kill themselves if they want to. "It is nothing to do with us", seems to be the philosophy—although I agree that I am stretching it a little. But it seems to me that that is the psychology that runs through the policies of successive Governments with regard to safety committees.

Your Lordships have been given the figures showing the increases in accidents, and all I wish to say is that 1970 is the seventh successive year when there has been a substantial increase in accidents and deaths. There has not been a mixed pattern, with figures down one year and up the next. This is the seventh successive year when the figures have risen. Indeed, last year the figures for accidents and deaths were half as great again as they were six years ago. So your Lordships can see that this problem demands something more than constant committees. Fatal accidents have also sharply increased. This is not just a question of notifiable accidents; it is a question of the number of deaths which are occurring. For instance, in building and engineering construction there were 238 deaths in 1968 and 273 in 1969. The death rate is escalating and one cannot afford to sit back and let it go on.

Royal Commissions and committees of inquiry are well-known devices used by Governments to dodge an issue. On this question of works safety committees, I can remember back to 1927 when commissions were set up to have a look at the possible viability of works safety committees. In some fields which do not so vitally affect workers in industry, this delay may not be so important, but when we are talking of 223,000 injuries and of a death rate which is escalating at a far greater rate than one would wish to see, then we must take some notice.

The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, who replied to us in an understanding way within the political light of what he said, and who I believe is a compassionate man (I do not think that there are many men who have no compassion at all) said that perhaps one of the explanations of this increase in the number of reported accidents is that more accidents are being reported. This sounds all right until one's attention is drawn to the escalation in the number of deaths. I am sure the noble Lord would not say to us that there were more deaths because more deaths are now being reported. People are either dead or they are not. So the increase in the numbers each year over the last decade or so suggests to me that more deaths are reported because there are in fact more deaths, and that there are more non-fatal accidents being reported because there are in fact more non-fatal accidents.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord would allow me to interrupt him. If he will look at the figures from 1962 to 1969 he will find that the average over the years 1968 and 1969 is exactly the average over the whole period. It is simply not true to say that the number of deaths has increased. There was a high point in 1966 and a particularly low point in 1967, but over the years the number has remained pretty static. I say that purely to point out that we are not faced with a situation in which the number of deaths is increasing year by year.


My Lords, I will not argue that point to-night. Let us keep on a point which cannot be argued, although perhaps we may have more to say on it later in this House. Let us say that last year, 1969, there were 273 deaths as against 238. We cannot quibble about that. That is not a thing we can accept without further thought on the matter. This, by the way is an all-time record—and that is another point. In the case both of reported accidents and deaths, the figures in 1969 were an all-time record, and one can reasonably assume, I think, although we do not know what is going to happen during the rest of 1970 and in 1971, that these figures will continue to rise. This is an assumption, and we shall have to wait and see. I agree that figures in themselves are unconvincing—a year can be taken here and a year there—but, on the whole, the pattern seems to be going the way I suggest; and if among the figures that I have quoted there is one death that might have been avoided, then so far as I am concerned the point is made—and I am sure the noble Lord would agree with me.

I believe that the Government (this Government and the previous Government, too) are sympathetic to the idea of statutory joint works safety committees—a horribly long title—but I suggest that the time has now come, because of these deaths and these injuries, when the Government should demonstrate their sympathy by translating it into action. One speaker said that he did not want to make political points out of this subject. Nor do I, but I have worked in industry and I have seen these accidents—and, really, I cannot forget them. As long ago as 1966 the Government announced that unless more progress was made during the next few years in the voluntary establishment of joint works safety committees, statutory powers would be taken; and, indeed, we all know that a Bill was prepared which got lost in the "journey over Jordan". One hopes now that this Government will do more than take a look at it.

I believe myself that the Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill was a very sensible piece of legislation, and I do not think anyone could say that there was any political idealism in it, one way or the other. Indeed, that Bill, your Lordships will remember, provided that there had to be joint consultative committees; but if the employees and the management agreed that they would establish their own, then they were almost outside the provisions of the Bill. So there was no compulsion there. In the Bill which got lost there was a desire to get the workers and management in consultation, to get them both involved, because it was realised, as some of us realise (I having spent my lifetime in industry), that the only way in which you will get co-operation in anything you want to introduce is to get the workers involved. In fact, some very wise people, who are "twisters" in their own way, realised this long ago and so closely involved their workers in some of their methods that they are "getting away with murder". Nevertheless, I agree with this involvement. I keep mentioning involvement because I think it is so highly important.

Now it is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, mentioned, that in relation to these joint committees there has been a creeping movement over the years. He said that they amounted to almost 50 per cent. last year. That is true. In July, 1966, there was 27 per cent.; in May, 1967, there was 37 per cent.; and in 1969 there was 47 per cent. But at that rate it is going to be decades before all industry is covered, and these figures suggest that we cannot afford to wait so long. Another important point here is that it has been demonstrated (I forget the committee which discovered these figures) that in more than 2,500 factories which had these voluntary joint committees they were judged by the factory inspectors to be ineffective or, alternatively, to have been established for too short a time for their effectiveness to be assessed. In other words, sometimes a false front is created; sometimes joint committees are evolved and the employers and perhaps the workers—who knows?—do not intend to do anything about it. There are 2,500 of these.

The proportion of factories with joint safety committees varied from industry to industry, as one might imagine. It was highest in the case of the gas and electricity industries, where a statutory obligation is imposed on Boards to consult and involve each other in these safety matters. It was lowest in the footwear and clothing trades. We can imagine this, can we not? I can almost see your Lordships thinking now how it comes about, and why. I suggest that the time has come when the Government ought to declare, as the last Government declared, that if more progress is not made the necessary legislation will be introduced.

I suppose I am a political animal, otherwise I should not be here, but I will strive as much as I can to keep this subject out of the political field. It is quite impossible, I know, but I should like to try because I am so much concerned with it. Those of your Lordships who may have been unfortunate enough—and I put it like that—not to have had experience of working on the shop floor must have the greatest difficulty in understanding the reaction of workers to these problems—and to a host of other problems, too. Nevertheless, a good deal is being done in this field. Some industries and organisations are better than others, but the greater part of industry's existing safety efforts fall far short of present-day needs.

May I be permitted, as an example, to mention Sweden, where I think the population is about 8 million? There some 30,000 safety nominees were nominated and trained and were involved with the employers—I mention this again, though it may appear to be a hobbyhorse of mine—in trying to do something about the matter. I want this word "involvement" to be constantly in the front of your Lordships' minds, because it is the answer to so many problems in industry to-day—involvement. Under the Swedish workers' protection Act workers participate in accident prevention operating at high national and local level; it is a system unique in the world. I am sure that many noble Lords know about this. We know that the Minister of Labour sent a delegation there last year to look at it. It would be worth while to examine this; and while for a variety of reasons, it may be too much to expect such a form of organisation here, I believe that we might learn something from it and that a good deal of it might be useful.

I should be the last to suggest that successive Governments have done nothing in this field; but they have done precious little until the Bill introduced by the last Government which was, so to speak, "lost in the wash". I like the booklet issued by the Ministry of Labour in 1968, called Work Safety Committees in Practice: but management to-day has so little time to read matter like this, and workers certainly will not read it. There must be something more than booklets, pamphlets, slides and television advertisements; though all of them may play a part. We must get the workers and management involved together in this exercise. Only then, I feel, will something be done. But this will not occur, I am sure, unless there is some statutory obligation. I have quoted the two and a half thousand works safety councils—or was it one and a half thousand?—that were considered useless. They started off—and then I do not know what happened. But I know of some cases where the safety committee was concerned with clean lavatories. The workers felt that this was not the right approach.

At least some noble Lords imagine that what is now being proposed is something new. Let me disabuse their minds on this. The very system for which I am pleading now—and which was embodied in the Bill produced by the last Government—has been operating in the mining industry for a hundred years. So this is not something new, something which has suddenly struck us. It has been there. It came about in the mining industry because of the awful catastrophies that occurred over that period of time, some of which we can all recall, historically, even if we were not personally present to deal with them. So, I repeat, we are considering nothing new.

I should not like to be too ungenerous either to this or to the last Government: I know that there are a great many problems, but I feel very keenly that there is little time to lose. Next year there will be 400 more deaths, which might possibly have been reduced to 200 had this legislation been passed, or 350,000 or 250,000 accidents, half of which might have been averted if this legislation had been there to compel, or at least to provide for the opportunity of, involvement by workers and management.

Let me say again that no one is suggesting for one moment that legislation in itself can cure anything. Legislation may lay down the rules: in this case legislation is not telling the employers precisely what they have to do. It is saying to them, "You can either accept the provisions of this Act when it becomes law or, alternatively, you can agree with all the workers that you will set up safety committees on your own." That is all it asks. I agree that to say by legislation that one must be aware and always on one's toes would be equivalent to passing legislation to say that lovemaking must occur only on Tuesdays and Fridays. That would be nonsense—although I must say that I do not think that this House would be particularly interested in that law if it came about.

My Lords, I do not think that we ought to await the Robens Committee Report. It seems to me that the Robens Committee are unlikely to find out anything more than has been found out over the past ten years. I think it would be helpful, and I am glad that Lord Robens is Chairman, but we have been awaiting Reports on the subject for more than fifty years. As I said earlier, my recollection goes back to 1927. Meanwhile more people are going to be injured, more are going to die. It seems callous constantly to say that we must have the reports of this or that committee. It if were a matter of environment (about which I am very interested), perhaps we could wait ten or twenty years, and gradually muddle along. But this is a matter of life and death. This is a matter where hundreds of people will be killed next year, and many thousands seriously injured.

I therefore plead with the Government that, if they feel it necesary to await the Robens Report, they will not use that as an excuse for putting on one side the examination of the need for legislation. I should like an assurance that the Gov- ernment are concerned about the escalating figures for injuries and death in industry, and that they are considering the sort of legislation—not the sort of invocation but the sort of legislation—needed to deal with the problem. I believe that the Bill conceived by the previous Government adequately met the case. If this Government do not feel that, then I should be happy to know that they are going to produce something that will achieve the results that we had hoped for from that Bill.

6.16 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for intervening at this late hour, but I shall not keep the House for long. I have asked permission of the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, to take two or three minutes of your Lordships' time. The only reason I do so is that, listening to the debate, I realised that I have perhaps a piece of information which is not known to other noble Lords. This is because from time to time I sit on medical appeal tribunals called under the Industrial Injuries Act where we consider cases where the workman appeals against the findings of a medical board or where the Secretary of State refers the case to the tribunal because he is not satisfied with the findings of the medical board. Incidentally, I should like to say how extraordinarily fair are the officials of the Department of Health and Social Security in these matters. We see the results of terrible and severe accidents, although we do not see the fatal ones; and we see the prescribed diseases.

I should like to say straight away that I agree with all that has been said about serious accidents, about fatal accidents, about brucellosis, about noise and about asbestosis. But I must agree with the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn (and I share his hop; that we shall not be considered complacent because we put these points before the House) that we must examine the way in which these accidents are notified and also what constitutes an industrial accident. I wonder whether some noble Lords know the kind of thing which is included in that category. The kind of thing that we see, not at all infrequently, is the case of a woman of, let us say, sixty years of age, whose job is to clean floors. She has a pain in the back. You ask her to tell you about the accident that she had last February and she says, "I was moving a chair on to a table so as to clean the floor under the table. While I was moving it, I got a pain in my back." When you examine the records you find that her doctor has treated her for, say, lumbago in 1965, and again in 1967 and again in 1968. In 1969 she was moving a chair to a table and got a pain in her back; and this, my Lords, is an industrial accident—one of the 223,000, or whatever the figure is. I am now going on to what is perhaps a rarer case in which both these things occur. I am inventing this, but these are the words I have heard many times. You say to the lady: "There is a gap: you never claimed any disability payment at all between March, 1968, and August." She says," I did not know you could get it until someone told me about it". You go a little further into the matter and you find that the knowledge of the disability payment preceded the discovery that she had had an accident at all.

I am not saying, and I am not going to say, that she should not receive payment. Something that makes a bad back worse is a much more serious disability for her than it might be for some Members of your Lordships' House. I am not saying that such a woman is malingering. I am calling the attention of your Lordships to the fact that this would be included among the industrial accidents. There are hundreds and hundreds of cases rather like that. Many of them are more severe. But they amount to no more than lifting a rather heavy weight during the course of the ordinary employment of a man or woman.

I feel almost sure—I cannot be quite sure because I cannot prove it—that in the last ten years there has been an increased realisation on the part of work people about what they can receive disability payment for. I think there has been an increasing difficulty on the part of people who have to decide—thank goodness we are not called on to do so!—about what is an industrial accident and what is not; and being fair-minded people there is an increasing tendency for them always to give the claimant the benefit of the doubt.

I very much doubt whether the people who originally drew un the Industrial Injuries Act had in mind that lifting something on to a table would cause an industrial accident, if that occasion happened to be at the time when a person got a pain in the back. I do not want to say anything more than that. I am not saying that it is unfair or that the workers are exploiting the Act. All I can say is that statistics make no discrimination between a head injury, which leaves a man blinded or deaf or with noises in his head or dizziness or that kind of thing, and the lifting of a little piece of furniture. The statistics need to be examined carefully before we attach a great deal of weight to them. More importantly, we should find a much better way of classifying accidents so that we know just where it is in this spectrum of accidents, from the severe and fatal to the absolutely trivial, that the increases are taking place.

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for not indicating earlier that I proposed to take part in this debate. The reason is simply that I did not think I should be available to do so, but my appointment did not last as long as I thought. After listening to the speeches that have been made I have one or two points that I want to make, but I assure the Minister that I shall be very brief.

First, I would not accept one statement made by my noble friend Lord Winterbottom; and I am sorry that he is not still present in the Chamber. If I understood him right, he said that the miners in the constituency which he represented when he was a Member of Parliament were apathetic about questions of safety. I would say that I know of no body of workers who have taken a greater interest than miners in questions of safety and in the prevention of accidents. They have put forward ideas for the prevention of industrial diseases. I would remind my noble friend that the major piece of industrial legislation first introduced into Parliament was the mining legislation of 1911. Mr. Churchill, the then President of the Board of Trade in a Liberal Government, was so impressed with the anxiety of the miners that he became responsible for the mining legislation of 1911. Between that time and 1954 scores of regulations were made respecting safety in the mines. It is my experience, my Lords, that the miners, because of the nature of their work, have displayed perhaps great enthusiasm and certainly, to put it no higher, have taken as much interest as anyone in questions of industrial safety and the prevention of industrial diseases.

My noble friend Lady Summerskill drew the attention of your Lordships to a disease now prevalent in the agricultural industry known as brucellosis. I echo her sentiments about that. It is time that brucellosis was looked at more closely with a view to its inclusion in one of the schedules of industrial diseases. All my life I have been concerned with accidents and industrial disease. It has been proved that some industrial diseases may be prevented, and a classic example is that of miners' nystagmus. Up to thirty years ago it was one of the worst of the industrial mining diseases. We argued that if we could get better illumination in the mines, it could be improved. That has happened. With the assistance of the old coal owners, and later the National Coal Board, and because of the enthusiasm of the miners, there is now a much better standard of illumination in the mines. The consequence has been that miners' nystagmus is now almost non-existent.

The other two things to which I wish to refer are dermatitis and Dupryton's contraction. There is a difference of opinion among the members of the medical fraternity about the types of dermatitis. I am not a medical person and I know little about anatomy, but I have learned from experience that the line between constitutional and industrial dermatitis is very thin. What I should like to say to the Minister who is to reply is that if this question of dermatitis could be looked at again, with the idea of removing the fine line that exists between constitutional and industrial dermatitis, it would do away with a great deal of dissatisfaction that exists in the mining industry.

I remember that in the early days of the war, when the late Lord Morrison was Home Secretary, there was a lot of dissatisfaction in the Nottinghamshire coalfield. A man would go to his doctor and would be told: "You have got dermatitis very badly indeed, my boy, but on my examination it is not industrial, it is constitutional." Then the miner would go to the medical referee (who at that time was a general practitioner) and he would say the same. I put all these points to the Home Secretary and asked him whether he would look at them again, with a view to removing dermatitis in people working in high temperatures and in excessive dust from the list of constitutional diseases. That did not happen, but Mr. Morrison (as he then was) suggested that a dermatologist instead of a general practitioner should act as medical referee. I thought that that was not a bad idea; it was a step, at any rate. But what happened? We got more unfavourable decisions from the dermatologists as medical referees than we had from the general practitioners; and that situation is still continuing.

May I add this? When a doctor sees a man into whose skin he could not stick a pin without sticking it into a pimple, and has to tell him that, although he has dermatitis badly, on medical evidence it is not industrial, the man suffering like that is not only sceptical but is certainly frustrated. I will not say more about that.

Perhaps I may mention another matter, which has been rather a hobbyhorse with me for many years. That is the question of Dupryton's contraction. Like dermatitis, there is this difference in the medical profession as to whether it is constitutional or comes through using these jarring tools. I know what I think about it, but we do not seem to be making any progress in prescribing this disease any more than we have with dermatitis over the last twenty-five years. My only purpose in intervening this evening is to ask the noble Lord opposite if he will have a look again at this question of dermatitis, with a view to removing this fine line, and also at this question of Dupryton's contraction, with a view to its being prescribed as an industrial disease.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise for detaining your Lordships at this late hour but I can promise that I shall be brief. First of all, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Crook, for inaugurating this debate, and also the noble Baroness, Lady Summer-skill, for having once again come into the lists to try to get brucellosis treated as a very serious matter. Noble Lords will remember the debate on January 20 of this year, when some of us tried to impress on the House the seriousness of the condition as it was then. Since that date it has become far more serious and far more widespread. The disease is not now to be found only in villages in the countryside; it has leapt over the walls into the towns, and in some cases it is found in large cities.

The disease is difficult to identify and diagnose because of the many symptoms that are involved, but there is no question that it can be a most distressing and debilitating disease, lasting always for weeks, sometimes for months and possibly, on occasions, for years. I hope that it will not, just because it is difficult, be treated, as many difficult problems have been treated in the past, by being put into a pigeon-hole. I know that there is a great pressure nowadays for productivity. Let us not have productivity interfere with sound, hard slogging work in the investigation of the definition of this disease. I hope that we may see it scheduled as an occupational disability and that it will no longer be the mystery it has been in the past. I thank all noble Lords who have waited so long, in the hope that I shall get my word.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, we have had an extremely interesting debate, which has covered a wide range of subjects. I must say straight away that I am sure noble Lords will not wish me to comment on some of the more specialist observations that have been made, some of which are really outside the responsibility of the Ministry of Employment, but I shall pass on the remarks of noble Lords to the appropriate Ministries. Perhaps I could revert to the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Crook, the more so as further comment has been made on the question of lighting. I apologise to him for not having dealt with this point in my previous speech.

So far as lighting is concerned, it is true that the booklet, Lighting in Offices, Shops and Railway Premises, gives two illumination levels, but I have no evidence that this causes confusion. The purpose is to encourage occupiers to consider improvements even though they may have reached the minimum required. The important thing to realise is that the lower level meets the legal requirement to provide sufficient and suitable lighting in Section 8 of the Act. It would be wrong to infer that it is too low to prevent accidents, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, has just said about nystagmus. This is illustrated in the current issue of Accidents, published by the Department. The point here is clear: if we are laying down a criminal liability, subject to prosecution for a criminal offence, it is almost invariable that we lay down a minimum requirement, and if a person goes below that he is guilty of a criminal offence. That is not to say that people should not do better, nor that the inspectors going round will not advise people to do better than the minimum requirement.

The right reverend Prelate is not in his place, but I should like to echo the tribute he paid to the Inspectorate, especially the Chief Inspector, Mr. Plumbe. He suggested that many accidents might arise from boredom. My noble friend, Lord Auckland, who is not here either, suggested that they might arise through apathy. As I mentioned, there is an inquiry in progress into accident causation. Once we get the results of that inquiry perhaps we shall be able to determine a little more closely what are the causes of accidents and then to consider how we can prevent them. I am quite certain that the right reverend Prelate was correct when he said that the ultimate cure rests with the individual. I have every sympathy with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Wright, said and I am sorry that he also is not in his place. I had great sympathy when he said that this is a matter very largely for training and co-operation. This echoes what I thought the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, put exceedingly well in his very well balanced speech.

To turn to the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, I should like to thank her for her personal reference to myself. We have been on opposite sides of the House for a very long time now. I have come to appreciate the kind heart that is always behind her remarks, although I sometimes think that, by a curious metabolism that takes place, they come out in pretty sharp criticisms from time to time.


That is why you remember them.


We men often tend to charge women with arguing from the particular to the general. Perhaps the noble Baroness was accident prone herself in this respect to-day in what she said about asbestosis. I think she was really speaking from particular cases that come to light, although not ignoring the great deal of work that has been done to try to keep under control what really has been a scourge in its own way. But the real point, as I said in my speech, is that we are hopeful that the regulations which have been introduced this year will be of such a character that, first, they can be readily enforced and, secondly, they are rightly directed towards the troubles. Then the result will be, we hope, almost an elimination of this industrial disease. One ought not to be to optimistic, but this has been the aim, and I hope that it will work out that way.

The noble Baroness referred also to noise. It is true that the subject of noise has been debated many times in your Lordships' House. It is all the more a matter for some satisfaction that something is now being done about it. The noble Baroness spoke about the relationship that may exist between noise and the accident rate and noise and absenteeism. Interesting though this may be, the problem is one of preventing deafness due to high levels of noise in employment. It is to this that the Industrial Health Advisory Committee is directing its attention. The reason why 1970 is the starting point is, as I mentioned in my speech, that the crucial piece of research was published only in March, and it is upon this research that action is being based. Before then no one knew what level of noise, or what duration of exposure to noise, would cause deafness and how many people could be affected.

Reverting to asbestosis, the delay in improving the situation was due largely to the procedure laid down by the Act. I am sure this is one of the problems that the Robens Committee will consider. They will go into the question of whether this procedure needs improvement. Brucellosis is primarily a matter for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. As to prescribing it as an industrial disease, I will draw the attention of the Department of Health and Social Security to this point. In my small experience I am immediately struck by the people who I happen to know have had brucellosis—and this is pure chance—but had nothing to do with the agricultural industry. I mention that because it may not be too easy to establish a connection.

With regard to night shift work, which is perhaps a little outside the range of this debate, I thought the noble Baroness was trying to get it both ways. If night shift working is a burden, then it is worth paying more for, and if you do not accept the burden it is difficult to say that more should be paid nevertheless. There are two ways of calculating payment for shift work: either you are paid extra for the night shift, or you do it in rotation—you accept your turn on the night shift. If you do not do so it seems difficult (does it not?) to say that you should, nevertheless, get the same rate.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord how he applies that argument to the pay of nurses?


I am not certain that that is comparable in any way at all. But I would need notice of that question; I was dealing with it in general terms. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, that what we are really doing is trying to fight against apathy and ignorance. We are certainly making strides, and I gave some indication that we were doing so. I attach a good deal of importance to what the noble Lord said about the appointment of safety officers. This is extremely important. There is now an Institute of Industrial Safety Officers, and this is a very good development indeed. These are people who should have the ear of management. Without that they are no use at all. They are the people to whom management should look for advice, and if you have any sense at all you will not appoint and pay an industrial safety officer unless you intend to listen to the advice of that Institute. It is also right that if you have an industrial safety officer you are more likely to have joint consultation as well, because he will want a bridge on this matter and will want to keep in touch with both sides.

I will not comment upon what my noble friend Lord Auckland said, because, as he suggested, I will write to him on the matters he raised. I am sure that we all agree on the importance he attaches to visual aids. This is something which is being widely put into effect, whether by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the British Safety Council, or the Department itself. A great deal of material is available. The employers themselves help a great deal on this subject. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Wright, is not here because I would be prepared to contest more of what he said than almost anything that anybody else has said. Perhaps I had better reserve that for another time, except to say that I do not necessarily accept all the figures that he gave.

There is one figure that must be put in perspective, and that is on the subject of joint consultative committees. The fact is that there are fewer than 20 per cent. of workers in factories where over 500 are employed who are not covered by joint consultative committees. What I said was that my right honourable friend is not yet convinced as to what is the best way of promoting these joint consultative committees. He is quite satisfied that they should be promoted.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Platt, for his intervention. Perhaps I should just say that what he said coincides entirely with the experience of the Department. One of the obvious problems is this. A man is away for three days; he says that the reason for his being away is because he has had an accident at work. It is therefore notified as an accident. This is why I mentioned in the course of my remarks earlier on that a follow-up study is being undertaken by the Department of Employment to sort out those accidents that are quite unambiguously arising from employment. I think this will help the analysis of accidents in general.

My Lords, I hope that I have covered most of the points that have been raised. I should like to conclude only by saying once again that I hope the noble Lord, Lord Crook, will think that it has been worth his while to raise this debate in your Lordships' House. I am sure that all noble Lords who have taken the trouble to remain and listen to the debate are quite sure that it was. But once again I should like to congratulate him on having done so, and to thank him for the close study that he makes of this subject.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he give us an undertaking that he will look at the question of dermatitis and Dupryton's Contraction?


My Lords, I said that I would pass the question of these problems to the Ministry responsible. I am not qualified to deal with them myself. I am sure the noble Lord will recognise that.


My Lords, that covers the point.

6.53 p.m.


My Lords, may I rise to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. First of all, may I thank the noble Lord who has just sat down for what he had to say. I find it very useful, if only because it gets down on paper, in Hansard, some of the things some people ought to be thinking about. I do not believe that enough people think about this problem at all. I shall not make a long speech going over all the excellent contributions that have been made. In fairness I ought to say that it is within my knowledge that my two fellow Vice-Presidents of the Royal Society, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, both told me in advance that they hoped they could speak before 6 o'clock. None of us knew that this afternoon we were going to run into the exceptional business that has made us late. I apologise on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Ashton under Lyne, too, who in order to get back to his home has to catch a train at 7 o'clock; otherwise he would have to stay in town overnight. He has in fact gone and apologised for having to do so.

I realise only too well that some of the points which have been raised are not those for which the Department of Employment and Productivity can be held responsible. I knew when I spoke that whatever I said on accidents would get support from my noble friend Lady Summerskill; but I also knew that she would manage to drag in equality for women and brucellosis. She managed both points excellently with her usual aplomb. I realise that brucellosis, Dupryton's and so on, are not the job of D.E.P., but I am glad if the information can be passed on. As Chairman of the National Dock Labour Board, I initiated a large-scale inquiry into Dupryton's as the industrial disease from which dockers suffered. It was found that the Labour hospital at Golders Green knew it as something from which the drivers of lorries suffered. I then discovered that it occurred in all sorts of other places. The evidence I left behind at the National Dock Labour Board I know has been sent to the Medical Research Council, and I have been wondering when some of us are going to hear something from them about Dupryton's. Maybe the stir that my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield has given them will help.

As to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Platt, may I say that I would not disagree with him. There will always be the "mumpers" who say," I didn't know you could get it" and then proceed to try to get it. There will always be the odd one. But there is the other side of this penny. Thousands of accidents are never reported, even in a place where they ought to be reported, and that is because the better the system of medical support that is set up by an industry, the fewer the reportable accidents. In the docks we set up a health and medical service, and the doctors and nurses throughout the large ports never did fewer than a quarter of a million main treatments in the course of a year. I believe that that is still roughly the kind of figure now. None of those treatments will feature in any Government report at all. Of course they are known to D.E.P., who see the reports of the National Dock Labour Board, since the Board has to report to them.

It is equally true that if one looks at docks one will find the curious fact that there are lumps of docks (that is the only phrase to use) where the Factories Acts apply and lumps of docks where they do not; and there are now additional places on docks where suddenly the 1963 Act applies because there are offices on docks. Yet still there remain places in between the three categories which come under no Act for reporting at all. The reason why I mention this point in conclusion is so that I may say this to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn. I wonder whether it is possible for the Government to consider—not in a rush, but with a view to having a conclusion in mind when Lord Robens's Committee has reported—whether there ought not to be somebody getting all the facts about accidents and associated matters together. Then we should not all have to go delving into this file and that file, this report and that report, and slinging a lot of statistics at each other. Instead, the overall position would be known authoritatively.

This afternoon I have spoken about only two Acts, but there are five other Acts dealing with accidents, and five other Departments involved. There are, for example, mines and quarries. The Home Office and several other Departments all deal with this kind of subject. The penalties for doing the same kind of thing differ under the Acts, but they are out of date, in my view, and long overdue for examination. There are the reporting authorities in that connection, and then 1,700 reporting authorities as a result of the Shops Act, with fires coming in separately to the Home Office. If only someone recorded that information, and the scheduled diseases, it would be of use. One cannot help accepting that the noble' Lord cannot possibly talk about scheduled industrial diseases on a brief from D.E.P. because D.E.P. cannot be expected to know anything about the matter, except by looking at a book, as I can do. But if some of this information is put down and incorporated in one volume at some time within the next two or three years, it may be that some of the discussions we have had in this House will not have been in vain. My Lords, I thank noble Lords for all their support, and I ask leave of the House to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.