If the people who act as the enforcement authority then change hats and offer commercial consultancy – ostensibly to put right the issues they’ve identified, how comfortable would you feel?
I recently attendeda Westminster Briefing on Health and Safety after the Young Review – and was astounded to discover that’s exactly what is on the agenda. With all the big guns present, including the Rt Hon Lord Young of Graffham; Judith Hackett (Chair of the HSE) and representatives from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), the British Safety Council (BSC), the Better Regulation Office (BRO), The Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) you’d expect wisdom and ethical practice. I’m not convinced that’s what we’ll get.
It seems that, because the Government are cutting local government budgets the City Council (and other local authorities) is exploring new ways to generate revenue. They’ve decided to go into competition with commercial health and safety practitioners by offering consultancy and services to compete with the private sector.
It may not sound too radical – competition is healthy. However, when you take into account that local authorities are responsible for around 90% of the ‘policing’ of health and safety standards in business, it means that they’re going to be judge, jury, plaintiff and defendant all at once!
If a business is not meeting the health and safety compliance requirements the enforcement authorities (local government or HSE) can issue an improvement notice, a prohibition notice or prosecute – but then they propose to also step across the line and offer the consultancy and services to ensure businesses don’t transgress the legal requirements.
So what happens when a local authority ‘advisor’ gives poor advice? Who will take them to task? The obvious answer seems to be that the Health and Safety Executive should be there for that reason. However, it appears that they’re jumping on the same bandwagon.
If a company gets it wrong as a result of the advice given by a government advisor operating as a consultant and someone dies or is critically injured as a result – who will prosecute? HSE and local government are not going to prosecute themselves. The danger is that the number of prosecutions will drop and the number of enforcement notices will increase.
Despite the suggestion that the legal advice that both Westminster City Council and the HSE have been given that this is acceptable – I have yet to find anyone outside the government who sees it as anything but a very dodgy practice.
So where does this leave us? With government bodies finding ways to bend the rules to suit themselves; it’s a bit like the expenses claims debacle – it might be within the rules, but that doesn’t make it right, ethical or moral.