The union says that as a result of a ministerial instruction, the government's safety regulator – the Health and Safety Executive – has reduced the number of preventative proactive workplace inspections by one-third, down from 30,000 to 20,000 a year. The inspections are undertaken by HSE's Field Operations Directorate.
Negotiations officer Michael Macdonald said: “In order to ‘reduce the burdens on business’ HSE field inspectors’ primary focus is now on reactive investigations that respond to known incidents. Whole sectors of industry have now been explicitly exempted from proactive inspections. The current Legionella outbreak in Edinburgh highlights the risks to society of diminished proactive inspections.”
Simon Hester, Prospect HSE branch chair said: "Although we cannot speculate over the source of this tragic outbreak, it is a stark reminder of the danger of denigrating health and safety at work and the value of effective inspection by the HSE.
“Due to spending cuts, HSE’s occupational health expertise is extremely thinly spread, which has led to a lack of sufficient advice in the field. Cooling towers are common in many industrial processes and the risks created by poor health and safety management are well known.
“It is always preferable to avoid incidents that harm people, rather than merely investigating after the event, so Prospect believes that decisions on proactive inspection should be based on professional expertise and that adequate resources are made available. HSE needs more inspectors, not less," said Hester.
Chris Grayling, the minister responsible for health and safety at work, announced the reduction in workplace inspections in a statement in April 2011: Good for Health and Safety, Good for Everyone, in which the following industries were deemed to be 'low risk' and therefore exempted from proactive workplace inspections: the whole of the public sector including health, education, prisons and emergency services; public transport including buses and airports; the post office and parcels delivery; agriculture, docks, electricity generation; manufacturing industries including light engineering, plastics and rubber, printing, electrical engineering.