§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they are satisfied that the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 are being fully observed by employers; and what steps are being taken to ensure that they are doing so.
The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, recent research on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive showed that there was adequate compliance with the regulations. Inspectors continue to help employers to comply with the regulations—both during their visits, and on request.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but is he aware that the Trades Union Congress recently undertook a survey into the way in which the regulations are working, from which it transpired that a number of employers were failing to comply with the regulations, particularly in the area of sight testing and in making available free sight tests? Does the Minister agree that one of the ways in which employees can make absolutely certain that these very important regulations are being complied with is to belong to a union and to ensure that their union makes it clear to their employer that the regulations must be complied with?
My Lords, I am not surprised that the noble Baroness says that, but I do not know that I can confirm what she has said. If a person wants to join a union, he may do so, but I would not suggest that he should do so. That is a matter for him. I know that the TUC carried out a survey, as did the Health and Safety Commission. Its survey covered 1,200 employers, 660 employees and 100 union representatives. It found that over 95 per cent. of employers said that intensive users were allowed to 1167 take breaks; that 80 per cent. had made alterations to work stations; that 39 per cent. had made formal risk assessments of work stations; and that 35 per cent. had arranged eye tests, but eye tests only have to be provided on request. As a result, 1 million people have had their eyes tested. I do not think that is a bad record.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, can the Minister say whether there have been any prosecutions?
My Lords, in the period 1993–95 six improvement notices have been served by the Health and Safety Executive.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, can the noble Earl explain why employers have to pay for the eye tests and not the National Health Service? Are the Government secretly planning to sign up to the social chapter, which would mean that all kinds of burdens that are not normally placed on employers would be placed upon them?
My Lords, the noble Lord lets his imagination run ahead of himself. There is no suggestion that we should sign up to the social chapter. The fact is that we were obliged to comply with this directive which was passed by qualified majority voting. It was brought into effect in regulations on 1st January 1993. We were against the directive because we thought that it was unnecessary. Employers have to provide proper work places and proper conditions for their employees. If an employee requires his eyesight testing—not because he thinks he is short-sighted, but because he thinks that his eyes have been damaged as a result of working with a screen—the employer is obliged to arrange such an eye test.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, I am responsible for employing several hundred people who require eye tests because they work on computers. Why does the employer and not the National Health Service have to pay for them? That places an additional burden on employers which they would expect to have only if this country had joined the Social Chapter.
My Lords, I do not believe that the noble Lord should worry too much. If he has hundreds of people working for him who require lots of tests presumably he must be arranging fairly good ones. But, so the theory goes, if people feel that their eyes are being damaged as a result of the circumstances in which the noble Lord obliges them to work, it is right that the noble Lord should arrange for them to have their eyes tested to make sure that they are all right.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, can the noble Earl confirm that in this country we no longer have free eye tests? I hope that is right because only the other day I was charged for such a test. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, is unaware of what this Government have done. Does this particular set of regulations apply to employees in your Lordships' 1168 House? Is this House meeting all of the standards set out in the regulations, whether or not they apply to the employees?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, is probably in a better position to answer that question than I am. He is chairman of the Refreshment Department. I am sure that all of the people who look into his computers as well as frying pans have had their eyes properly looked after. I cannot tell your Lordships whether or not that is so in this House, but these regulations apply to all people who work for employers where visual display units are used.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, is the noble Earl satisfied that Regulation 6 is being fully observed by employers? That regulation obliges employers to provide users of this equipment with adequate health and safety training.
My Lords, when the inspectors visit premises they ensure that people are given proper facilities. They are obliged to make sure that the working environment is good: in other words, that the employees have chairs which are properly adjusted, that their working routine is correct, that they have breaks and that they have training for the machines and systems. They are also required to arrange eye tests. The inspectors have found that, on the whole, it has worked sufficiently well, such that only six people have had improvement notices placed upon them. Of course, when inspectors make visits, they give advice to employers where that is necessary. I have no reason to believe that the position is other than satisfactory.