§ Mr. Nicholas Brown
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what representations he has received from the Health and Safety Commission about whether public sector sickness and absence should be a priority area; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Browne
The Department has received representations from the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) on rolling out a programme of work addressed at improving health and safety performance in the public sector. We have agreed with them that this will become one of HSC's priority programmes.
A major element of HSC's "Government Setting an Example" programme will be supporting public sector organisations to reduce work related sickness absence through the development and dissemination of exemplary good practice in managing risks to occupational health, in particular musculo-skeletal disorders and stress.
The most recent analysis of sickness absence in the Civil Service for 2002 reports that mental illness and musculo-skeletal disorders are a major contributor to absence. HSE's stress management standards pilot includes organisations in the public sector. The pilot will end in Autumn 2003 and evaluation will continue until 2004.
§ Dr. Murrison
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what progress has been made in addressing the health and safety needs of small and medium sized enterprises in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the funding of further measures.
§ Mr. Browne
During the last year, the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) has taken a number of extra steps. This year the Commission reappointed a Commissioner specifically to represent small businesses.
It also piloted a grant scheme, providing matched funding for training and mentoring for micro businesses. The scheme finishes in December 2003, with an evaluation report expected early in 2004. HSC will evaluate the results of this scheme, comparing it with other initiatives, before making any recommendations about extending initiatives in the future.
The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) promoted new ways to promote positive models of health and safety through the use of new technology with well-tried methods, eg a CD Rom containing case studies and an electronic benchmark questionnaire. Both are supported by a managed visit programme whereby small businesses can learn and experience good practice.