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Wednesday, 16 October, 2002, 00:12 GMT 01:12 UK
UK safety watchdog under fire
Simon Jones
Simon Jones died at a docks not checked for four years
Workers are being put at risk because the Health and Safety Executive cannot afford to carry out enough inspections, it has been claimed.

The Centre for Corporate Accountability (CCA) and Unison, the UK's largest union, say there has been a serious decline in the number of workplace inspections - a 41% drop - over the last five years.

In 2001 80% of "major" injuries to workers reported to the HSE, and 70% of "dangerous occurrences", were not even investigated, they said. And only 11% of major injuries resulted in prosecution.

On average, a workplace would be inspected once every 20 years.

Safety at work
295 deaths per year
30,000 injuries
CCA and Unison say 80% of major injuries not investigated
Only 11% result in prosecution
Almost 300 people in Britain are killed in the workplace every year, and 30,000 are seriously injured.

Health and safety enforcement in offices and other workplaces was described in the report as "minimal and haphazard".

Unison called for more resources to be spent on health and safety and said there should be more prosecutions of "criminal" employers.

CCA director David Bergman told BBC 2's Newsnight programme the lack of HSE inspections was needlessly putting lives at risk.


[The HSE] have a very small pot of money to divide up among everything that they do - consequently nothing gets done well

Anne Jones, whose son died at work
"Unless... inspectors can go to workplaces and identify failures before a death or major injury takes place, then a death or major injury may take place in the future," he said.

The scathing report was backed by Anne Jones, the mother of Simon Jones who died in 1998 at his first day at work at a site which had not been inspected for four years. Mrs Jones spent three years battling to bring the case to court.

"The HSE don't like spending money on prosecutions," she said. "They are so grossly under-resourced that money that goes on prosecutions has to be taken away from inspections or investigations, or something else.

"They have a very small pot of money that they have to divide up among everything that they do. Consequently nothing gets done well," she said.

'Balancing resources'

The HSE questioned some facts in the CCA and Unison report, but accepted the overall picture.

A spokesman said inspections between 1997 and 2002 had dropped from 92,000 to 65,000.


We've reduced the amount of inspections we do in order to be able to do more enforcement and have other contacts with people

HSE
Justin McCracken, deputy head of the Health and Safety Commission, said "of course" more inspections would help the executive do its job better.

But he said the HSE did plenty of other work to improve workplace safety.

"Any regulator would like more resources to be able to do more inspections... and to be able to give more advice to people," he told Newsnight.

"But our job is to use the resources that we've got in the most effective way... what we have to do is try to get the balance between the different types of activity.

"We've reduced the amount of inspections we do in order to be able to do more enforcement and have other contacts with people."

The HSE has been asking ministers for more money, Newsnight has learned. The government's response has not been made clear.

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