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To fulfil its purpose, HSE desperately needs funds

Neil Hope-Collins · 6 July 2020

Prospect are campaigning for an adequately resourced Health and Safety Executive. One that is able to do what you, and the politicians, expect of it.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the principal government body responsible for regulating workplace health and safety law in England, Scotland, and Wales (Northern Ireland have their own equivalent body). It does this along with the local authorities, The Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). The HSE provide specialist assistance to the other regulators and takes the lead role on UK health and safety policy in the workplace.

A brief history of HSE

Though factory inspectors have been around since 1833, the HSE was formed in the 1970s as a tripartite organisation. This means that it is founded on a principle that workplace health and safety can only work effectively if you engage with business, workers, and government. The current board still reflects this founding principal with members nominated by business (CBI), workers (TUC) and government.

HSE’s lead role has meant that it has become a symbol of the country’s attitude to workplace health and safety. Over the years it has been demonised by various parties and groups. It has been reviewed numerous times, often with the clear agenda of getting rid or at least cutting it. In every case the review has reported that the HSE is strongly supported by both business and workers. It feels sometimes as if the only part of the tripartite foundation that wants to reduce HSE is the government!

And reducing HSE is exactly what government has done. They stopped carrying out reviews, and instead have just systematically cut the funding.

The costs of cutting HSE funding

This is not just a general trade union issue, this is a Prospect issue. Most of our members work in areas that are directly regulated by the HSE and it is our members that do that regulating. Prospect represents scientists, policy staff and inspectors working for the HSE.

HSE has now been reduced to such an extent that it is unable to fulfil public and political expectations. For years, our members working for HSE have seen the contortions and strategies used to present a façade of effectiveness to politicians.  We have seen how figures have been presented in ways that hide the full impact of cuts in funding.

Stopping the decline

COVID-19 and the PM’s commitment to spot inspections have really put a spotlight on the fact that HSE is not able to fulfil public expectations.

HSE is in steady decline.  More inspectors leave every year than HSE is able to recruit, its science base is shrinking. Something significant has to be done to turn around this decline.  The country needs to invest in the health and safety of workers, and that means building the regulators that ensure workers go home at the end of the day.

Neil Hope-Collins is a HSE inspector and Vice President of Prospect


For a fully funded HSE

The campaign for health and safety regulation to get the resources it needs