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HSE too lenient on rogue bosses

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is too lenient on companies found to be in breach of health and safety legislation. That was one of the damning findings to emerge from the Internal Audit of Regulatory Decision Making (RDM) - Incident Investigation, made public late last month. The internal review was conducted to examine the actions taken by the HSE and Local Authority (LA) inspectors in cases where health and safety breaches resulted in deaths, major injuries and over-three day injuries. After examining 126 incident investigations, the audit team identified 19 cases that justified prosecution action. The HSE pursued a prosecution in seven of those cases. Of the 12 cases that should have resulted in a prosecution, but didn’t, one involved a death; six involved major injuries; two over-three day injuries; and two dangerous occurrences. In terms of enforcement action meted out by the HSE in these 12 cases, one resulted in no action being taken; in five, verbal advice was given; in six an improvement notice was imposed; and in another a prohibition notice was imposed. The auditors also identified a further six cases where harsher enforcement action was justified. In total, the auditors said 18 of the 126 investigations resulted in lenient enforcement action when tougher measures should have taken place. The review concluded: “The results of this exercise suggest that there is a significant gap in following policies and that incident investigations should be resulting in somewhat more consistent enforcement activity than is currently case. Therefore, we can give limited assurance that the system provides an adequate basis for effective control and is properly operated in practice.” The results of internal audit was made available to a select number of individuals in the HSE, the LA, and the National Audit Office, in July last year. The audit was obtained by the Centre for Corporate Accountability (CCA), a human rights charity lobbying on issues of safety, law enforcement and corporate accountability, under the Freedom of Information Act. Commenting on the main findings, David Bergman, CCA executive director, said: “Real improvements to ensuring enforcement action, in line with the HSE’s own policies must be made. What is of particular concern is that the HSE’s own Enforcement Policy Statement only allows prosecutions to take place only in the most serious cases. If the HSE can’t be trusted to prosecute even in these cases, what confidence can the public have in the accuracy of any enforcement action taken?” Rob Miquel, Unite national health and safety officer, said: “This performance is not good enough. We feel that the problem stems from lack of adequate Government funding. The HSE is not going to receive any real increases in funding over the next five years, and this produces cuts. As a result, the HSE concentrates its efforts on those cases which it believes will result in a successful prosecution. It sends out inspectors to put out notices because they haven’t got the funding and they haven’t got enough inspectors.” The HSE refused to comment.