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Review finds HSE fit for purpose but highlights funding problems

12 February 2014

The first triennial review of the UK’s national regulator for health and safety, the Health & Safety Executive, has concluded that the functions it delivers in preventing death, injury and ill health in the workplace are still needed and a non-departmental public body remains the appropriate delivery model.

The review, commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions, said that, on the whole, the HSE was operating with the level of control and governance that should be expected of an arms-length body of its size and profile.

Martin Temple, chair of the UK manufacturing organisation EEF, was asked to lead the review in April 2013.

Writing in the report's foreword, he said that there was room for improvement and identified a number of areas where there was scope for innovation and change, "to ensure that HSE continues to operate efficiently and effectively in the 21st century".

Temple identified funding as an important issue. He said that the HSE's efficiency and effectiveness to deliver its functions was dependent, in part, on its resources and how it chose to deploy them, and to make use of others to deliver aspects of its work.

"The funding from government has decreased over the last 10 years and it is unrealistic to expect in financially constrained times that the HSE's budget will be returned to levels at an equivalent value to those it had previously," he warned in the review's executive summary.
"For the foreseeable future, its funding will continue to be reduced in line with the rest of the public sector. It is vital, therefore, that the HSE continues to explore innovative approaches to making the delivery of its key functions as effective and efficient as possible."

In particular, the report criticised the Fee for Intervention (FFI) model, introduced in October 2012. Under FFI, those who break health and safety laws are liable for recovery of HSE’s related costs, including inspection, investigation and taking enforcement action.

The HSE has the right to charge £124 for each hour of work where an Inspector highlights a material breach, which it describes as when there “is or has been a contravention of health and safety law that requires them to issue notice in writing of that opinion to the duty holder”. In total, the HSE invoiced more than £5.5m in the first year of the fee For Intervention scheme.

Temple labelled FFI as a “dangerous model” which has potentially undermined the integrity of the HSE and called for further consultation on its continued operation.

He said:  “While my remit for this review was primarily to consider the continuing need for HSE’s function, the wealth of comments I received from stakeholders regarding the Fee for Intervention regime has compelled me to address the issue.

“I am very concerned at the strength of feeling from stakeholders that FFI has damaged the HSE’s reputation for acting impartially and independently, and therefore its integrity as a regulator.”

He made an urgent recommendation that an independent adjudicator should be introduced at the first formal stage in FFI appeals, to ensure that the process was both independent and impartial, and seen to be so.

Further, Temple concluded: “I recommend that, unless the link between ‘fines’ and funding can be removed or the benefits can be shown to outweigh the detrimental effects, and it is not possible to minimise those effects, FFI should be phased out.”

In response to the review, British Safety Council Chief Executive Alex Botha said:
“The British Safety Council believes that in order for Great Britain to continue to be effective in preventing workplace injuries and work-related ill-health we need a properly resourced, expert and independent regulator.

“We welcome the Government’s acknowledgement of the continuing need for HSE to help to achieve that goal. That view was overwhelmingly supported by our more than 6,000 corporate members.”

“We note that Temple highlighted concerns over the recently introduced cost recovery scheme, ‘Fee for Intervention’ (FFI). Many of these concerns reflect the views of our members we submitted to the review so we welcome the recommendations concerning the planned review of FFI to be expanded to examine these issues.”

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