On behalf of 1,750 inspectors, scientists and other professionals in the Health and Safety Executive, the union asks who will police the new regulations when the body responsible for inspecting workplaces is already reeling from massive job cuts and faces a further drive to find 15% cost savings over the next three years.
Neil Hope-Collins, Chair of Prospect’s HSE branch, said: "Any measure to clarify the law is admirable particularly given the 14% increase in construction fatalities, and lives destroyed by major accidents, that we have seen this year. But you have to ask who will enforce the new regulations?
"HSE has suffered year-on-year real term cuts since 2002 with recent constraints on funding resulting in the need to cut over 280 jobs by next year. These dramatic cuts are required to remain within existing funding limits. If our parent body, the Department of Work and Pensions, chooses to impose its 15% efficiency savings at the cost of health and safety, then even more jobs will be lost from 2008 to 2011.
"HSE is simply not inefficient so these cuts will decimate front-line services if applied. For example, this drive for savings means that HSE’s construction division alone faces a 10% drop in its share of allocated resources for next year, even before the DWP’s efficiency savings are factored in, and that picture is reflected across the organisation."
Hope-Collins said that any drive to improve safety has to acknowledge the evidence that enforcing the law, not self-regulation, is the most effective motivator for business to improve health and safety standards. But research already shows that workplaces only receive an HSE inspection once every 13 years, and this figure is likely to increase as reduced staff numbers inevitably impact on the number of workplace inspections that can be undertaken.
The union has warned that the funding crisis is threatening to bring HSE to its knees and has called for immediate action to protect occupational health and safety by reducing the financial pressures facing the safety body.
Mike Macdonald, Prospect’s Negotiations Officer responsible for the HSE, said: "If government is fully committed to preserving the UK’s high standards of health and safety, then the HSE requires adequate funding. In the current financial climate, there is a risk that the health and safety of people at work will suffer due to measures that have minimal impact on overall government spending. Prospect calls on all advocates of health and safety to ask government to ensure that the HSE is adequately funded to undertake the policy development, advice and enforcement needed to protect lives and prevent serious injury."