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HSE INSPECTORS OPPOSE ‘FEE FOR INTERVENTION’ PROPOSALS

Relationships between construction industry and HSE inspectors in peril

HSE plan to extend cost recovery beyond the existing regimes in the nuclear and chemical industries. Prospect, the trades union representing HSE Inspectors, has now declared opposition to the Government/HSE proposals.

The union points out that existing schemes cover discrete high hazard industries with a limited number of sites which HSE is capable of inspecting with a reasonable frequency and recovering costs. The charged dutyholders know in advance through intervention plans what they will receive in return and can plan the impact of regulation on their business.

By contrast, HSE inspectors regulating construction and factories deal with an uneven understanding of hazards, risks and health & safety management. The ratio of inspectors to sites leads to a significant degree of randomness over who gets visited despite HSE’s attempts to risk profile.

Prospect state that the major reasons for opposition to Fees for Intervention are:

Cost recovery will NOT only apply to “rogue employers”

HSE construction inspectors will often deal with breaches of health and safety requirements without recourse to notices or formal letters by using discretion and a wide range of persuasive methods (short of formal enforcement) to achieve the desired ends.

Many who value inspector advice and guidance, will find themselves with ‘fee for intervention’ invoices without having had formal enforcement action taken. Inspector visits and interventions will become distracted from a focus on improving standards to a worry about the time spent dealing with problems and the subsequent costs.

Inspectors to meet ‘financial targets’ not safety goals

Prospect state that HSE has pushed hard for individual targets for notices and prosecutions and Inspectors in sectors that currently charge report significant pressure to meet financial targets.

Antagonism and conflict between Inspectors and industry

The positive relationships between HSE Inspectors and industry will be affected with inspectors open to the accusation that they are seeking to raise revenue. The respect afforded to inspectors, as disinterested, professional regulators will come under severe pressure. Prospect is concerned at the potential for increased risk of violence and abuse to HSE inspectors who typically visit workplaces on their own.

The problem of multiple duty holders in construction

In construction, there is usually more than one duty holder on a site. The majority of site visits do not lead to prosecutions and the primary focus for inspectors is to put matters right. The charging regime will distract inspectors from this objective towards  issues concerning allocation of financial responsibility for material breaches.

Bureaucratic nightmare for everyone

Fee for intervention’ will lead to an increase in appeals and disputes with Inspectors required to take more and more time retrospectively justifying their decisions and the time they have spent on an issue. The appeals procedure will take up scarce Inspector resources in reviewing decisions following disputed invoices.

A new support service will be needed to prepare and issue invoices, chase up payments and bad debts. Currently the regulation of health and safety law is incorrectly criticised for being a bureaucratic burden on business. The ‘fee for intervention’ regime will increase the levels of bureaucracy for employers and for HSE staff.

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