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homeFriday 16th November 2018

Huge drop in high-risk inspections

Corin Williams30/01/2013 - 14:00

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Proactive inspections have fallen 77%
Proactive inspections have fallen 77%

The number of council proactive inspections of high-risk category A premises has fallen 44 per cent, according to new figures.

A report drafted for HELA, the Health and Safety Executive’s local authority liaison committee, estimated councils will have carried out 2,560 proactive inspections at high-risk premises in 2012/13, compared to 4,560 in the previous year.

The number of inspections at low-risk premises – category B2 or C – fell from 49,419 to 10,245. The overall number of proactive inspections across all premises fell by 77 per cent.

It was also estimated a fifth of local authorities carried out no proactive inspections at all.

The reduction follows a series of government policies designed to cut back on health and safety inspections. Under proposals set out in a national enforcement code, local authorities will be prevented from carrying out any proactive inspections at low-risk premises.

HELA committee member Steve Miller told EHN the reduction was in line with government policy but that some councils were still examining low-risk premises in a greater proportion to high-risk.

He said the practice of conducting health and safety checks at the same time as food inspections would need to ‘go out the window’.

‘It’s traditionally what we’ve done as EHPs. The danger is that government will ask councils why they are doing low-risk inspections at all,’ he added

‘The message coming from government isn’t always getting to the troops on the ground. Local politicians and people leading environmental health departments aren’t always keen on this, they want to do health and safety.

‘That’s going to have to change or the government could come in and clobber us.

‘We shouldn’t be doing health and safety in every premises we go into unless there’s something we spot or we know that someone has complained or it’s common knowledge that there’s a problem or has been an accident.’

Chartered EHP David Gibson questioned how long councils could retain officers with the necessary competence with so few inspections being carried out.

He said: ‘Inspectors will soon not have enough experience to maintain their competency. And inspection numbers are set to drop still further, as gradually all local authorities come fully into line with the HSE directions on when visits may be made.

‘The HELA report shows a 30 per cent drop in accident investigation visits, and a 67 per cent drop in all health and safety visits. How far does the government wish the loss in public protection to go?

‘It is alarming to consider this when we have just had the disaster in The Kiss Night Club in Santa Maria in Brazil, where 231 lives were lost. Control of pyrotechnics in entertainment venues comes within the ambit of health and safety enforcement in the UK, not fire safety legislation. Under the draft enforcement code, local authorities would be barred from making routing proactive checks on such pyrotechnics.’

Hilda Palmer, spokesperson for the Hazards Campaign, said the figures were ‘horrifying’ and that the fall in inspections was far higher than the 33 per cent demanded by former health and safety minister Chris Grayling.

She said: ‘The role of proactive inspections as part of an effective enforcement regime, is to check up on employers' compliance, protect workers, lead to improvements and also save employers money.

‘But they also deliver justice and deterrence, reward good employers and weed out the rogues. A fall in scrutiny only rewards the bad employer who passes on the cost to the employee, the community and the public purse.

‘That a fifth of local authorities carry out no proactive inspection at all is a shocking and unacceptable retreat from enforcement and protection, exposing workers in those areas to increased risk of ill-health and injury. Workplace health and safety also affects the public who are being put at unrecognised but increased risk, as the legionnaires outbreaks starkly show.’

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