Consensus Kills by Alan Dalton

Note from Stephanie Trotter

I met Alan Dalton from time to time and had huge admiration for him and for his work. I also read his booklet ‘Consensus kills’ and this confirmed a great deal of my experience with the HSE. I

was incredibly sad that he died and still miss him and his excellent work.

I attended his funeral which was quite the most amazing funeral I’ve ever attended. Eve and their daughters were stars and I’ve never heard ‘God save the Queen’ by the Sex Pistols at a funeral before or since!

Alan was a great man but also great fun and is sorely missed.

Consensus kills health and safety tripartism: a hazard to workers’ health?

How for nearly 30 years the trade unions have handed control of UK health and safety law and policy law to the employers.


Since 1975 the UK trade unions have been involved with the government and employers in a so-called tripartite relationship on the UK’s top health and safety body, the Health and Safety Commission (HSC). The HSC operates by a system of ‘consensus’ whereby all HSC members agree and no votes are ever taken.

Consensus: “general agreement” – the Concise Oxford Dictionary

HSC Consensus: “the practice whereby trade unions hand over control of UK health and safety to the employers”.

About the author

Alan James Patrick Dalton 30th May 1946 – 11th December 2003

Alan Dalton was a graduate chemist and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for five years. He was a Fellow of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (FIOSH), a Registered Safety Practitioner (RSP) and an Associate Member of the Institute of Environmental Management (AMIEMgt). He researched, consulted and wrote widely on all manner of safety, health and environmental issues.

Throughout the 1970s he researched, wrote and campaigned for the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science (BSSRS) on workplace and environmental issues. During this time he wrote his most famous book, Asbestos Killer Dust (1979). In the 1980s he researched and wrote on health and safety for the Labour Research Department (LRD).

During the 1990s he was a senior lecturer in Safety, Health and Environmental issues at South Bank University and the health and safety co-ordinator for the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU). It was during this period that he experienced the tripartism of the Health and Safety Commission first hand (on ACDS and ChemAg, now HIAC). He also pushed the Health and Safety Executive, via a series of ombudsman enquiries, to be more open with their information. These two issues are combined in this report.

Sadly Alan Dalton died on 11 December 2003. In his last book, Safety, Health and Environmental Hazards at the Workplace, Cassell (1998), he developed further some of the ideas set out in this pamphlet. At the time of writing this he was on the Board of the Environment Agency.

Since his death this new edition has put together by Anne Noakes, Becky Allen and Eve Barker.


The 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act involved trade unions for the first time in the government structure to reduce workplace accidents and ill-health.

A top health and safety agency was formed, called the Health and Safety Commission (HSC), which consisted of government, employers and trade unions, in a so-called tripartite system of control. The overall aim of the HSC is to ensure that risks to people’s health and safety from work activity (including members of the public affected by those activities) are properly controlled. The HSC operates by a system of ‘consensus’ whereby all decisions are agreed by all three parties and there is no voting system. In short, if the employers do not want new health and safety law (with some notable European law exceptions) it will not happen or, if it does, it will be so watered-down as to be ineffective.

The government, in their recent health and safety review, Revitalising Health and Safety, effectively admit that the HSC has failed, in that currently each year in the UK:

At least 400 people lose their lives in work-related accidents,

Over one million people suffer a workplace injury,

Two million people suffer from ill-health caused by work,

25,000 people leave the workforce each year due to work-related accidents and ill-health.

This study, the first ever, looks in detail at the HSC minutes and papers (that have just become publicly available), surveys 25 of the 100 or so trade union members on the HSC, and its 21 committees, and uses the detailed experiences of the author on two HSC committees, to examine why the HSC has failed.

In summary, the trade union representation on the HSC, and its committees, has in general been pathetic and ineffective. The employers have got all they wanted coupled with Health and Safety Executive (HSE) complicity. The result has been massive, largely preventable, human suffering at the workplace and a great cost to the economy. Behind the above figures are human beings, their families and friends and lots of tears.

The HSC is no model for improving the health and safety of working people and some suggestions are made in this pamphlet for change. And change must happen in the HSC, in the 21st century, if we are to save millions of working people suffering from the massive amount of, mainly preventable, ill-health caused by work.




The idea of tripartism in health and safety

Success or failure?

Why look only at trade unions on the Health and Safety Commission (HSC)?


Trade union attendance at the HSC

Some important HSC decisions of the past 18 months – the asbestos ban; workplace asthma; home care workers; stress; investigating accidents; fire; rail safety; working time


HSC advisory committees

Committee minutes and reports

Education Service Advisory Committee (ESCA)

Health Services Advisory Committee (HASAC)

Advisory Committee on Toxic Substances (ACTS)

Construction Industry Advisory Committee (CONIAC)

Deep Mined Coal Industry Advisory Committee (DMCIAC)

Agriculture Industry Advisory Committee (AIAC)

Adventure Activities Industry Advisory Committee (AAIAC)

The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Substances (ACDS) –
a personal case study


Some recommendations




Appendix 1: Freedom of Information and the HSE

Appendix 2: Examples of HSC/HSE censorship

Appendix 3: Examples of where H&S advice to government ministers is withheld




“I think the tripartite principle has served the Nation well.” Bill Callaghan,

Chair of the Health and Safety Commission giving evidence to a House of Commons Select Committee, 23rd November 1999.

As the former head of economics at the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Mr Callaghan clearly expresses the national trade union view of the Health and Safety Commission (HSC). As we shall see, he is not alone in his praise of the HSC. Nearly all the current senior players, and observers, on UK health and safety consider 25 years of tripartism to have been an unqualified success. However, I suggest the views of many trade unionists in the workplace might be very different, if they only knew . . .

Tripartism – the system whereby government, industry and the trade unions sit down at a committee or meeting to discuss and decide issues of major importance – has generally been out of political favour in the UK for many years, initially under the successive anti-union Tory governments of both Thatcher and Major. But it is not the flavour of the month under Tony Blair’s New Labour government where ‘partnership’(1) (see notes at end) between employers and trade unions is much more fashionable. However, tripartism has survived – some might even say prospered – almost uniquely, in the arena of UK health and safety law and policy.

The idea of tripartism in health and safety

Although trade unions have been concerned about workplace health and safety issues since they were formed(2), it was not until the report of the 1972 Robens Committee(3) that the idea of bringing them into the UK government’s reformed national health and safety structure arose. Over the years there have been several severe critics of the Robens report(4), including the Labour government in 1973 when it was in opposition(5). Recently released government documents(6) have shown that Lord Robens, when he was Director of the old British Coal Board, was no friend of public health and safety.

A re-reading of Robens suggests no special role for trade unions when he recommends that the managing board of the National Authority for Safety and Health at Work, “should be composed of people drawn from relevant fields of experience and interest, so that the Authority can be seen as instituting a new policy for greater self-government in this field.” As the HSE has recently re-discovered(2), with regard to its ideas about ‘risk assessment’, ‘goal-setting regulations’ and ‘voluntary industry agreements’, Robens wanted less health and safety law. And, of course, ‘self government’ in industry is often a euphemism for ‘no government’!

Be that as it may, the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act introduced the idea of the tripartite Health and Safety Commission (HSC) formed of: a Chair plus six to nine other members all appointed by the Secretary of State. The ‘other members’ of the HSC would be:

  • Three Confederation of British Industry (CBI) representatives.
  • Three TUC representatives.
  • Up to three others from local councils, professional bodies, and so on.

This structure, along with the fact that ‘safety representatives’ would only be appointed from recognised trade unions (and not all the workforce as originally proposed by the Tories), was robustly defended(7) by Labour government ministers in the House of Commons debate on the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act. And so it remains, apart from some minor tinkering in 1989 by the Tories(8), until this day.

The HSC oversees the role and activities of the HSE, but is legally barred from involvement in individual cases of enforcement.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) consists of three key people, one the Director General who is appointed by the HSC, with the approval of the Secretary of State, and two others appointed in the same way, after consultation with the aforementioned Director. It is the HSE’s job to enforce health and safety law in around 650,000 workplaces, and also to oversee the health and safety standards in an additional 1.3 million workplaces where local authority Environmental Health Officers are the responsible health and safety enforcement officers – both under the guidance and direction of the HSC.

A reading of sections 10-14 of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act makes it quite clear that the intention was that the HSC should have been the UK’s all-powerful health and safety body, although clearly still accountable to the Minister, with the HSE as its operating arm. The reality of the last 25 years has turned out somewhat different, with the HSE tail wagging the HSC dog.

Success or failure?

“Tripartism and consensus have, indisputably, proved a success in the first 25 years of the HSW Act.” Howard Fidderman, Editor, Health and Safety Bulletin 281, September 1999.

Few UK health and safety practitioners, and others (eg government, CBI and TUC) today would dispute the view of the editor of one of the UK’s most respected health and safety journals. He speaks for us all. But what does he base his assertion of this “indisputable success” upon? A systematic, independent and academic study of the successes and failures of tripartism? No, for one does not exist. In a recent(9), and wide-ranging, review of UK health and safety developments since the 1972 Robens Committee report, Dr David Walters of South Bank University notes that, with the passing of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act: “A new infrastructure for decision-making in health and safety was introduced through the creation of the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and its various committees. While there is general acceptance that this level of participation in the regulation of health and safety is a good thing, there has been little analysis of its effectiveness or of the factors that might serve to constrain or enhance the relative roles of the participants.”

The Health and Safety Commission and Executive (HSC/HSE) claim one long march to a ‘safety and health utopia’ in their Annual Reports to Parliament. But then, they would wouldn’t they! This author(2), and others(4), have claimed the ‘HSC/HSE success story’ is not all that it claims to be, especially with regard to workplace ill-health. The government – in their recent(10) health and safety review, Revitalising Health and Safety – admit as much when they say: “We cannot be complacent. Fatal injury rates now seem to have reached a plateau. Each year some 400 people lose their lives in work-related accidents, over one million people suffer a workplace injury and some two million suffer from ill-health caused by work, resulting in 25,000 people leaving the workforce. We can, and should, do better.” (paragraph 2, government’s emphasis).

How can all these workers be suffering so much workplace ill-health, 25 years after trade union representatives were given the power, and authority, on the HSC to improve their working conditions? This is the question I set out to answer.

Why look only at trade unions on the HSC?

Here, the author must declare an interest. For several years, 1996-1998, I was health and safety co-ordinator for the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU). As such
I was a TUC-nominated member of the HSC’s Advisory Committee on Dangerous Substances (ACDS) and the Committee on Chemicals in Agriculture (ChemAg – now known as Health in Agriculture (HiAg)), which is a sub-committee of the Agriculture Industrial Advisory Committee (AIAC). I remain a committed trade unionist.

The only ‘new’ national health and safety player in the past 25 years has been the trade unions. Although representing less than half the employed workforce today, they are still the dominant and organised expression of working people. That is why this paper concentrates on their role and action.

Some 200,000 trade union safety representatives do an amazing job at the workplace representing members on all manner of health and safety issues and improving workplace conditions(2). However, they work within HSE laws, codes of practice and guidance notes that are formulated by the HSC and its 21 committees. Therefore it is vital, for the actions of these 200,000 safety representatives and their members, that the trade union representatives on these HSC committees are effective. For example, if there is no law on workplace stress (see page 13), then trade union safety representatives will have a much harder job taking up this issue with management.

Simply, only the trade unions represent the employees who are dying and suffering from workplace injury and ill-health and should therefore be expected to represent this interest at all levels. This pamphlet looks at the trade union roles on the HSC and its 21 committees.

The government position on health and safety is public and, more or less, expressed by the views and activities of the HSE; the old Factory Inspectorate as it was called from 1833 to 1974 (many HSE inspectors still signed themselves ‘HM Factory Inspector’ in letters to management). So good were their reports in the early days, that Karl Marx actually praised them in his influential work of 1867, Capital. He would not do so this century. This examination of the HSC minutes and papers confirms a very cautious, and even cowardly, HSE that still only really acts when pushed by a public disaster.

The CBI has been pretty consistent over the years in opposing most new health and safety law; especially for small businesses. In my view(2) the employers’ position has not changed much since the time of Charles Dickens and the ‘Association for the Mangling of Operatives’, who opposed the first Factory Acts to ban children climbing chimneys, working in coal mines, and so on, in the early 1800s. This examination of the HSC minutes and papers confirms the unchanged nature of the employers’ opposition to most advances that protect employees’ health and safety.


The HSC agendas – and those of its 21 committees – are now available on the HSE web site (www. hse Since 1st May 1998 the agendas have also included a summary of the main decisions taken. The background papers (less those too sensitive, see Appendix, Table 1) are available at HSE Information Centres and/or by payment and photocopying (also now available on the internet). It is a little known fact that the full minutes of the HSC meetings, and the 21 committees, are available on request (See Appendix). I was the first person to request the HSC minutes, and for the princely sum of £63.10 I was sent the minutes of 23 meetings, or almost 1.5 years, in November 1999.

Glancing through the HSC agendas (available on the internet) gives no real feel for the important health and safety issues being discussed. They seem to be dominated by approving committee appointments, reconstitution of committees (with no changes hardly), plans of work and raison d’etre of the 21 HSC committees. The HSC also rubber stamps changes and updates to HSE regulations and discusses pretty bland HSE discussion papers and documents.

Frankly, taken together, they are all pretty boring and heavy, and I do not envy the commissioners their bedtime reading! Some of the HSC papers are not available (see Appendix, Table 1) or are so heavily censored as to make them practically useless. Further, all the crucial advice to Ministers is missing (see Appendix, Table 2), so we often do not know where the HSC stands on a particular issue (see, for example, the working time issue page 15). However, as the case studies on asbestos and asthma show, with some effort – often using a mixture of agendas, minutes and background papers – the paper chain can be followed and HSC inaction highlighted.

Trade union attendance at the HSC

For the period under review (May 1998 to October 1999) the TUC members of the HSC were:

Alan Grant, appointed on 1st April 1995, who was Head of the TUC Organisation and Services Department. He left to join the Private Finance Initiative in November 1998. He was replaced by Owen Tudor, a Senior Policy Officer at the TUC with responsibility for health and safety.

Anne Gibson, appointed on 1st April 1996. She is the National Secretary of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance (MSF) trade union and the TUC spokesperson on health and safety issues at national and international levels.

George Brumwell, appointed on 1st April 1998. He is the General Secretary of the Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) trade union.

Either Alan Grant or Owen Tudor, of the TUC, attended all the 33 HSC meetings reviewed. Of the two other TUC nominees, the number of meetings missed was as follows:

Person                           1998 (of 13 meetings)             1999 (of 20 meetings)

Anne Gibson                                6 (46%)                                    8 (40%)

George Brumwell                         4 (31%)                                    6 (30%)

On two occasions during 1999 they were both absent together, leaving Owen Tudor of the TUC as the only trade union voice on the HSC. The TUC General Council guidance to TUC members of HSC Advisory Committees(11), issued in December 1998, requires that they, “Maintain a good record of attendance, and if they miss three consecutive meetings, resign their seats.” Anne Gibson, of the MSF and the TUC, missed three consecutive HSC meetings during 1999: those of the 7th and 30th September and 12th October. Of course, the HSC meets on average twice a month, and many HSC advisory committees only twice a year.

This brief review of HSC tripartism integrates three main sources of information:

  1. A survey of the composition, agendas and minutes of the HSC and its 21 advisory committees. They have now become available under the HSE’s freedom of information policy, since 1st May 1998 (see Appendix);
  2. A structured, mainly postal, survey of the 100 odd TUC nominees on the HSC advisory committees, of whom around 1 in 4 replied; and
  3. The personal experiences of the author, especially on ACDS.

It is convenient to separate the activities of the HSC, and the HSC committees, although it is clear that the views of the former influence strongly the behaviour of the latter.

Some important HSC decisions in the last 18 months

It is difficult to determine the various positions of, say, the CBI and the TUC on any one issue as the HSC minutes do not normally identify speakers; this is one reason why the meetings should be open to the public. Points are raised in discussion of any one issue, sometimes contradictory ones, but there is no mechanism for resolving differences as the HSC works on “consensus”. There is no voting, but sometimes the TUC requests its view be noted and, likewise, the CBI asks for its views to be written into the minutes.

During the last 18 months some general issues keep coming up at the HSC: rail safety (with some criticism of Railtrack); London Underground privatisation (and lack of consultation on safety cases with trade union safety reps); charges for HSE services; stress; asbestos; nuclear safety; smoking and safety representatives/employee involvement. Below are some more detailed examples.

The asbestos ban

From HSC meetings and agendas the following sequence of events can be identified:

  • In October 1997 the HSC considered a ‘duty to survey’; but we do not know the outcome of its discussions.
  • On 18th August 1998 it approved proposals to amend the Asbestos (Prohibition) Regulations and agreed a Consultative Document (CD) with a three month consultation period.
  • In November 1998 it agreed amendments to the Asbestos Regulations and Approved Codes of Practice.
  • In February 1999 the HSC agreed that, “in principle, the UK should vote in favour of the draft EU proposal (for a ban on the use and marketing of all asbestos)” – at last something definite!
  • On 11th May 1999 the HSC agreed to modify CD 140 “as recommended” (whatever that means!).
  • On 25th May 1999 it agreed to the draft prohibition regulations.

(The Regulations were published in August 1999, and became law on the 24th November 1999).

Those of us involved in lobbying for an asbestos ban think this is what happened. In June 1997, the then Minister for Health and Safety, Angela Eagle MP, in a debate in the House of Commons, promised a ban on asbestos. Lobbying by the Canadian government – a major producer of asbestos – of the EU and Prime Minister, Tony Blair, forced the EU and the HSE to look at the safety of substitutes for white asbestos (better the devil you know, than one you don’t!) and this delayed the issue (for some years), until the EU Directive on May 1999.

In the meantime the HSC were discussing the possibility of a ban, presumably in view of the Minister’s comments in June 1997, and this came up at the March 1998 HSC meeting. At this meeting the CBI representatives argued for a ban, presumably in line with their submission on CD 129(13), “at the earliest opportunity as companies that have invested in and developed alternative products are placed in an uncompetitive situation in relation to certain imported asbestos-based products.” But, the TUC Commissioner on the HSC, Alan Grant of the TUC, actually argues(14) against the ban on the grounds that, “It would embarrass the Labour government.” Shortly after this HSC meeting, Alan Grant left the TUC to work for the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). At the 3rd November HSC meeting the CBI thanked Alan Grant for his “hard work and pragmatism” and he replied that he had found working on the HSC “character forming” and had “enjoyed the comradeship of everyone on the Commission”.

The long-held trade union, and hence TUC, position for a ban was re-affirmed by the new TUC/HSC Commissioner, George Brumwell, at the HSC meeting on the 18th August 1998.

A little more light is shed on the HSC position by a close reading of some of the semi-open HSC miscellaneous papers on asbestos:

  • A paper on 16th December (MISC/114/98) updates the HSC on the proposed EU ban and notes that, “There is a lot of public and trade union interest in this subject.”
  • A paper for the 11th May 1999 HSC meeting (HSC/99/91) updates the HSC on the proposals for a UK ban and notes, “There is growing frustration shown through parliamentary questions and correspondence, that a tough ban is not already introduced.”
  • A paper for the 25th May HSC meeting (HSC/99/124) on the UK draft prohibition regulations notes that, “A ban is eagerly awaited by industry, Trade Unions and pressure groups. It will be for the Ministers to decide when to make the regulations,” but somewhat ominously and worryingly adds, “The Chairman’s letter of 14th May to the Depute Prime Minister drew attention to the risks associated with introducing a ban in advance of EU law. This point is reiterated in the letter at Annex 2.”

Needless to say, the letter at Annex 2 to the Deputy Prime Minister has been removed under exemption 2 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information (Internal discussion and advice)!

So, in summary, the trade unions on the HSC were actually behind the CBI at one stage in the ‘ban asbestos’ campaign. The HSC position on the asbestos ban appears to be – for it is secret – that the UK ban should have come after the EU ban! Yet most other European countries, Spain, Greece, Portugal, and Ireland apart, already have a ban on white asbestos; they did not have to wait for an EU ban. Why should the HSC?!

Thousands of asbestos victims, many of whom were trade unionists, must be turning over in their graves at this pathetic performance by the trade unionists on the HSC during the death knells of asbestos. It is quite simply shameful.

Workplace asthma

HSE estimates that there are between 1,500 and 3,000 new cases of occupational asthma each year. The Self-reported Work-related illness survey 1995 indicates that around 151,000 people judged themselves affected by work-related asthmatic symptoms.

But industry, and the CBI, forcefully oppose an approved Code of Practice to control asthma at work. I have written elsewhere(2) of the disgraceful, but little known, successful campaign by the CBI to kill the 1992 HSC proposed draft code of practice to control workplace asthma. Instead a voluntary, ‘Breathe Freely’ campaign was launched by the HSE in 1994. The new proposed workplace asthma code of practice admits that:

“Evaluation of the (Breathe Freely) campaign showed that fairly low proportions of employees changed their working practices as a result of the campaign and that publicity materials tended to reach those who were already taking suitable steps to prevent ill- health from asthma.”

This was reported to the HSC in November 1997, and the HSC asked for a redrafted code of practice. The covering note says, “Ministers have also expressed support for consulting on a code.” This draft code was discussed at the HSC’s Advisory Committee on Toxic Substances (ACTS) in November 1998. The HSE considers that the criteria for producing a code, “albeit a short one”, are met when:

  • there is clear evidence of significant occupational ill-health from asthma;
  • there is not only one prescriptive risk management approach to asthma;
  • there are preferred methods of meeting the goal setting (COSHH) regulations, for example on health surveillance, personal air monitoring, the focus on peak exposures and aspects of risk assessment and training; and
  • the alternative to a persuasive code might be to amend the regulations.

Finally, the draft code estimates the cost to society of new cases of occupational asthma, over the next ten years, to be between £460 million and £1,080 million. In comparison the total cost to society of the proposed code is £82 million. On costs and benefits it concludes, “In practice this suggests that the code only has to reduce the new cases of occupational asthma by a small amount for the benefits to balance the costs.”

Given the above background, the HSE were clearly optimistic that the HSC would approve their draft consultation document and suggested it be published in June 1999, with a deadline to comment by the 30th September 1999.

The HSC considered the proposed code on the 11th May 1999, and, “agreed that the HSE should re-draft the paper and come back to the Commission with revised consultation proposals.” It also added that HSE officials should, “try to set up a meeting with the TUC and CBI on this matter.”

The CBI has already caused tens of thousands more to suffer from preventable occupational asthma, since its cruel action of 1992. Now it seek to make even more suffer. Is this what ‘partnership’ really means?

Where is the outcry from the trade unionists on the HSC? Thousands of trade union members are dying and suffering great pain, discomfort and loss of pay from potentially preventable workplace asthma. Why is there no public campaign and alliance with asthma pressure groups and victims to force a rapid change in the law?

Home Care Workers

On 15th December 1998 the HSC agreed, “The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 should not be extended to cover domestic servants who may be care workers.”

Over 500,000 people receive care at home in England, and the government’s policies are to encourage this more often. There are an estimated seven million carers, and most of these are not covered by health and safety legislation. Care workers suffer 80 per cent of the accidents reported to local authority social services staff. A partially open HSE paper (HSC/98/186), for the HSC, concludes, “It appears that care workers in social service departments are at an increased risk of injury from manual handling.” And, of course, as employers the social services department are already required by law to carry out a risk assessment of the homes they visit. Although the same HSE report notes, “Currently there does not appear to be any monitoring of how that advice (the risk assessment?) is implemented by the client.” Other carers have even less protection. The health of millions of carers will suffer as a result of this HSC decision, and the NHS will pick up the bill. Why has there been total silence on this major issue from the trade union representatives on the HSC? This is a growth area of the economy and one where the trade unions should be seeking to recruit. If they just showed some concern for the mainly female, part-time workers, who largely make up the home caring industry, then such workers may see a point in joining a trade union.


On 23rd February 1999 the HSC agreed to publish a Discussion Document on work-related stress, with a four-month discussion period. The accompanying HSC paper (HSC/99/03) indicates that, “Ministers have expressed interest in the Commission’s views” and that, “HSC will remain under pressure from Ministers, Trades Unions, and others to take firmer action.” It is clear, reading between the lines of the minutes, that the big stumbling block to an approved code of practice to control workplace stress, as usual, is the employers and the CBI. The trade union delegates on the HSC could do a lot more to pressure the HSC on workplace stress prevention, since it is the number one issue of concern to their members. How effective is the current HSE guidance on stress, for example? Is it enforced? It took me an 18-month complaint to the Ombudsman (A7.99, October 1998) to force the HSE to release some of its enforcement action on workplace stress: 29 letters to employers; 20 letters to other parties; 10 inspections reports;
4 improvement notices and 1 prosecution during 1996-98. If the unions had followed this up on the HSC they would have been armed with more information to counter the CBI’s total opposition to any law to control workplace stress.

Investigating Accidents

On the 17th August 1999 the HSC discussed the results of a consultation exercise that asked views about a legal duty on employers to take reasonable steps to investigate accidents and reportable dangerous occurrences. 93% of those responding said the new legal duty would fit in well with existing practice and procedures at their workplaces. Simply: most decent employers investigate reportable accidents and occurrences anyway. It even makes good business sense.

But, in discussion, the CBI said it did not favour the change in the law, even though almost half the responses were from companies – many presumably CBI members – who overall did! It was the HSE that pointed out this anomaly with the CBI’s position, the trade unions could have taken a much harder view when the CBI is so clearly out of line with its own members.


The ‘partially open’, but very important, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) proposal for a ‘Fire Safety Commission’ – along the lines of the HSC – are so censored by the red pen of the HSE as to be useless. This vitally important paper (HSC/99/51) was discussed at the HSC meeting of the 23rd February 1999 and the HSC agreed, “to the recommendation set out in paragraph 21”. Of course, paragraph 21 is deleted! The minutes suggest that the HSC is waiting for, “the completion of the review” of fire safety (by the government/Home Office?). Fire prevention has often been described as the Cinderella of health and safety, and this censored discussion at the HSC seems to confirm the FBU’s worst fears!

Rail Safety

In December 1988 two trains crashed at Clapham Junction, killing 35 and injuring another 500 – many seriously. There was a public enquiry held by Sir Anthony Hidden QC. One of the key recommendations, number 46, of his enquiry was that trains be fitted with Automatic Train Protection (ATP). ATP is a system that links a train’s brakes automatically with the signals such that they would be applied if a train went through a signal set against it. The ATP system should have been in place within five years.

The, then Conservative, government agreed to this recommendation, but did a U-turn when it realised the cost would be £700 million.

Just a month before the 1988 Clapham Junction rail disaster a young, inexperienced, shop-fitter, Paul Elvin, was electrocuted on his first day at work at Euston rail station. His mother, Ann Elvin, campaigned for seven years for justice over his death (see Invisible Crime, Ann Elvin, £5; 01634 720104). In the end, after a long campaign, a sub-contractor was fined £5,000. That was the price of a worker’s life! I was very privileged to be part of Ann’s campaign and I was very shocked at the complacency, incompetence and arrogance of the Railway Inspectorate; part of the HSE. And this was before privatisation. The Railway Inspectorate simply let British Rail off the hook.

Since privatisation, various disasters; revelations of poor maintenance; public complaints; and trade union action (outside of the HSC) have forced the HSE to take tougher action against Railtrack and the various private rail companies.

The December 1998 Railway Inspectorate’s Annual Report revealed deaths from train accidents had almost doubled in the last year, from 25 to 48. The number of people killed at level crossings rose from 3 to 14. Suicides and deaths, including young children playing on the line, increased from 252 to 265. Attacks on railway staff rose significantly from 267 to 335. There were 489 complaints investigated by the HSE and the largest number of passenger complaints related to overcrowding on trains and stations. Yet, Frank Davies, Chair of the HSC, downplayed these figures saying, “In spite of some concerns, it must be remembered that railways are the safest form of land transport.” What the unions on the HSC said, if anything, we do not know.

At the HSC meeting on 26th October 1999 Vic Coleman, Head of HSE, Chief Inspector of Railways, summarised his annual report for 1st April 1998 to 1st March 1999 (before the Paddington accident on the 5th October 1999) as follows:

  • Signals Passed at Danger (SPADs) had risen by 8%, from 593 to 643.
  • Significant train accidents (those potentially the most dangerous to passengers) had risen by 15, from 89 to 104.
  • There had been a 14% increase in staff due to injuries from assaults.

The ‘good indicators’ were:

  • No passenger fatalities for the first time in five years.
  • Fatalities at stations (ie excluding trespassers and suicides) had fallen by
    11 (23%) from 48 to 37.

The rise of SPADs, or ‘near misses’ in common terms, should have been an issue of great concern to the HSC and, if acted upon, one that might have prevented the Paddington rail crash. When this report was published, on 1st December, the following additional issues were highlighted (The Guardian, 2nd December 1999):

  • 33% of the rail network is deteriorating and a further 45% shows no signs of improvement. A mere one-fifth showing signs of improvement!
  • Broken rails have risen from 656 in 1994-95, to 801 in 1997-98 and 937 in

The Guardian comments, “Questions will almost certainly be asked about why, if the situation as described by Mr Coleman is so serious, he did not draw attention to it
before now.”

Indeed, and why did the HSC not ask some searching questions of Mr Coleman and do something before the latest rail disaster? Just whom are the HSC protecting? Why were the trade union representatives on the HSC so silent on this very important issue?

As might be imagined, after the Paddington train crash of the 5th October 1999, where 30 people were killed and another 259 injured, rail safety has leapt to the top of the HSC’s agenda in recent months. From the HSC minutes, it is clear that both the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, have been driving the HSC agenda and action in this area. One result of this pressure was that “an Extraordinary Commission Meeting” was held on 7th October 1999. The Chair of the HSC, Bill Callaghan, attended a meeting with the Prime Minister and others on 9th October 1999 on rail safety.

Two actions arose from the meeting with the Prime Minister:

  • The setting up of a task force chaired by the DETR to look at governance of safety in the railways.
  • The formation of a ‘Hit Squad’ to look at Railtrack’s Safety and Standards Directorates’ role in safety regulation.

Working Time

A very important illustration of the importance of knowing what advice the HSC gives to ministers came to light recently(12) with regard to proposed changes to the Working Time Regulations.

In July 1999 the government announced its intention to scrap the need for employers to keep detailed records of the hours worked by those who had opted out of the maximum 48-hour rule. This sparked anger from many unions outside of the HSC, who said this would undermine the enforceability of working time measures. The HSC considered these proposals at the 19th/20th July 1999 meeting and then wrote to the Minister, the letter being exempted under the HSE’s Code of Practice on freedom of information. Although the full minutes (but not the internet summary) do say with regard to records, “the HSC thought that there should be a written agreement to opt out because without this there was virtually no way that the HSE and local authorities could enforce the Regulations.”

Labour MPs raised the issue with the Trade Secretary, Stephen Byers. The Minister responsible for competitiveness, Alan Johnson, replied in August 1999 saying, “The HSC have indicated they are content that they will have sufficient powers to protect the health and safety of workers in this respect.” However, the contents of the July letter were clearly leaked to The Observer, and the HSC said that it was concerned that the need not to keep records would undermine the ability of health and safety inspectors to enforce the regulations. A “source at the HSC” told The Observer that Johnson’s letter was, “really quite misleading”. Surely the public in general should have the right to know what advice the HSC gives Ministers?

HSC Advisory Committees

The HSC has 21 official advisory committees, 14 for various industries and 7 subject committees, as below. The 1998 HSC Annual Report(15) says of these committees:

“All the committees produce and publish guidance with the Commission’s endorsement. Subject Advisory Committees allow the Commission to take views on difficult issues, typically of cross-departmental interest. They provide formal consultation mechanisms in areas of high public and political sensitivity, such as genetic modification; and the involvement of outside experts helps give legitimacy to their, and to the Commission’s activities. They also act as a sounding board for HSE proposals.

“HSC’s Advisory Committees encourage the joint participation of all representative organisations in the improvement of health and safety at work; draw on the expertise available from both sides of industry and elsewhere; give the problems of particular industries closer and more detailed attention than the Commission itself is able to do, and allow an industry focus on general issues (such as noise and COSHH).

HSC Advisory Committees divide into two types: industry and subject

Industry                                  Subject

Adventure Activities                  Dangerous Pathogens

Agriculture                                Dangerous Substances

Ceramic                                   Genetic Modification

Construction                             Ionising Radiation

Deep Mined Coal                      Occupational Health

Education Services                   Safety of Nuclear Installations

Foundries                                 Toxic Substances

Health Services


Paper and Board





These industry committee subjects are looking a bit long in the tooth now. Yet, even in 1975 when first formed, there were some notable exceptions such as the chemical industry and the engineering industry. Now the absence of ‘industry representation’ for groups of workers in: the voluntary sector; the media; carers; cleaners; call centres; home workers; the office; hotel and catering; pubs and restaurants; the airlines, and other growth areas of the economy, requires some explanation and action.

The subject advisory committees have fared better, but is there now not a case for forming committees around the major occupational hazards(2) such as:

  • Stress, depression and anxiety
  • Workplace strains (eg RSI, backache)
  • Lung diseases
  • Cancer
  • Reproductive hazards
  • Accidents
  • Nervous system damage
  • Noise and vibration hazards
  • Dermatitis and skin problems
  • Heart disease and strokes

Committee minutes and reports

Some general comments:

Looking at the composition, frequency of meetings, agendas and minutes, it is clear that there is a wide range of ways these various HSC committees work. For example:

  • Some meet three and four times a year, but most only twice a year.
  • Some have clearly three CBI nominees and three TUC, plus HSE support.
  • Many have other specialist observers, observers from other departments and many HSE people.
  • One or two have ‘community, consumer or environmental’ representation.
  • In most the affiliations, but not always the status, of the various participants is made clear.
  • Most committees appear to respond to HSE initiatives, and are not pro-active.
  • When asked for enforcement information on any particular issue the HSE is, generally, reluctant to supply it (usually saying it is not available and/or would cost too much to obtain).
  • There appears to be little discussion or disagreement between employers and employee representatives at most of the committees.

Note: it is impossible to review the 21 HSC committees in an article of this size, although I have examined the minutes for all the 21 HSC committees during 1998. Those selected below are, generally, on their importance in terms of numbers employed and/or hazards to employees. There are good and bad examples included. There is no doubt that some of the HSC committees of the more specific industry sectors, where the unions are well organised, do work pretty well in producing good guidance that is respected and conformed to by large sectors of that industry. However, in general, such HSC committees are not the norm and do not represent the growth area of the economy.

Education Service Advisory Committee (ESCA)

This committee is large (27 people), with a very active trade union membership. Thus, they were the first, and only, HSC advisory committee to produce guidance on workplace stress as early as 1990. According to the HSE (ESAC 32/C), in 1995 about 37,000 teachers or former teachers suffered from stress, anxiety or depression caused by their work. A further estimated 26,000 suffered from some form of physical illness they believed to be due to stress at work. Taken together this is about 4% of current teachers. Violence to staff remains a big issue and when union reps, in April 1997, pushed for stronger HSE guidance and action to be included, in a revision of HSE’s guide Violence to Staff, the HSE chair had to, “remind members that the document was being revised, not re-written”.

At the April 1999 meeting the union reps asked for a facelift to the HSE education guidance newsletter (ESAC News), whether enforcement action could be included, and whether it was distributed to trade union safety representatives. HSE guidance on MDF hazards and laser pens was requested. UNISON reported a detailed survey of the health and safety implications of the use of laptop computers by careers service advisors.

In October 1998, the results of a preliminary HSE survey into noise in 12 schools were discussed and it was concluded that, “On the basis of the schools sampled, there may be areas that warrant further investigation.” It was reported that the University of Ulster was carrying out research into vocal strain in teachers. The preliminary results of a stress action survey in Local Education Authorities were presented. A paper on the potential health risks of the high use of computer keyboards in education was presented. A discussion of the problems of trade union safety representatives in higher education took place with allegations that some employers do not recognise safety reps and HSE inspectors do not always ask to meet safety representatives. The HSE replied that, “HSE could not ask for more than was legally required. HSE might encourage site safety committees, especially in large schools, but it could not require it.”

Trade union members of ESAC commented:

“The HSE have inadequate resources to do the work the committee would like.”

“ We currently meet twice yearly and I believe we could be more effective if we met more regularly.”

“Reduction of frequency of meetings has reduced effectiveness.”

Health Services Advisory Committee (HSAC)

This is a large committee (27 members), with 11 employer and employee side members each. The NHS is the largest employer in Western Europe and has a very bad health and safety record.

In February 1998, the committee considered (HSACO2/52/01) a report from the Committee of Public Accounts that concluded, “there may have been in excess of one million accidents in NHS acute hospital trusts in England in 1995, and that the costs of these accidents were likely to have been at least £154 million a year.” The HSE notes that only 1 in 3 (37%) of hospital accidents that they were legally required to report were actually reported. In general the HSE found a low and variable level of trusts’ compliance with health and safety legislation.

The minutes of three meetings, from February to November 1998, do not seem to show any sense of urgency about dealing with the major health hazards in the health services.

Trade union members of HSAC commented:

“There is a limit to what can be achieved because of limited resources.”

“The effectiveness of guidance put out must be evaluated to accurately measure success.”

Advisory Committee on Toxic Substances (ACTS)

This is a committee with four CBI and TUC nominees each, five independent experts, two local authority representatives and environmental and consumer representatives with up to 20 HSE representatives attending at any one time.

In March 1998, 25 years after the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act became law, a trade union member of the committee noted that, “Only employers were consulted on the COSHH guidance document.” He was “content with the end decision, but would prefer to see employee representatives consulted in future exercises.” The use of the word ‘prefer’ is significant and very humble in view of the fact that it has been a legal requirement for the last 25 years!

At the same meeting a trade union member of the committee noted that, “HSE tended to err towards maintaining the status quo if there was uncertainty, which sometimes concerned the TUC.”

At the July 1998 meeting the question of openness of the committee minutes was discussed and the ACTS members said they would prefer attributable minutes, but bowed to, “the principle of consistency with other HSC advisory committees led them to accept a change to non-attributable minutes”. This is simply not true and a manipulation by the HSE! 24,000 people were exposed to asthma caused by flour dust and the flour industry had proposed a ‘safe’ exposure limit of 10mg/m3 (but cases of asthma still occurred at this safe level) when in The Netherlands one-tenth of this had been proposed. ACTS rejected HSE’s recommendation to defer work towards a safer level of flour and asked for one by the Spring of 1999.

At the November 1998 meeting, they discussed the new proposed workplace asthma code of practice and ACTS agreed the approach taken by HSE (see page 12).

In addition, the technical papers on specific chemicals and areas of interest (eg male reproduction, dry cleaning hazards) would be very useful updates and summaries of current information on that topic for interested parties.

A trade union representative on ACTS said, “There are however profound questions about the effectiveness of the present system, not least because the ability of industry to meet the standards set without major expenditure is a key factor, and the HSE is proving less able to deal effectively with these.”

Construction Industry Advisory Committee (CONIAC)

This committee has seven CBI nominees, four TUC nominees, two small firm members, two Construction Industry Council members (chartered architects and engineers) and five observers.

Construction remains one of the most dangerous industries and is of concern to the general public, trade unions, campaign groups (eg Construction Safety Campaign) and Ministers.

These minutes are practically useless, as almost every reference to a name, discussion or significant decision has been removed under exemption 2 of the HSE’s code of practice, “material removed that would harm the frankness and candour of internal discussions.”

At the March 1998 meeting a member expressed concern, “about the recent fatal accidents in London and that the accident rate within construction did not seem to be improving as a result of the introduction of the Construction, Design and Management Regulations (CDM).” Sandra Caldwell, HSE CONIAC Chair and HM Chief Inspector of Construction, agreed January had been a bad month for accidents, but emphasised that the report under consideration was about the implementation of CDM, not its effectiveness.

Also at that meeting a summary report of an HSE inspection initiative on demolition was reported.

  • 703 employers were contacted
  • 6 prosecutions were initiated
  • 62 Prohibition Notices were issued
  • 5 Improvement Notices were served.

Both good and bad practice was noted by inspectors, but the general nature of the report does not allow any general assessment of the state of the demolition industry in health and safety terms.

However, the report did highlight one instance of how environmental improvements can influence health and safety:

“The newly introduced landfill tax has resulted in more regular use of crushers on site to produce hardcore. The hazards of noise, dust and entanglement are associated with this machinery. There is also evidence of special wastes (eg asbestos cement) being fed into crushers, either inadvertently or to disguise its presence; asbestos should always be separated from ‘inert’ waste and properly disposed of.”

In July 1998 a trade union member raised concern that, in effect, most demolition was exempt from the CDM regulations as it was only notifiable to the HSE if it lasted 30 days and/or involved more than 500 person days of construction work. The TU side thought this very important, but Sandra Caldwell would only commit the HSE to reviewing the situation, “in the next two or three years”.

The role of regional safety representatives was discussed at this committee, but the HSE were lukewarm and the employers totally opposed.

The problem of heavy building blocks was discussed. It was confirmed that their manufacture was still legal and one trade union member (presumably!) said he was considering advising his members to refuse to work with such heavy blocks. Sandra Caldwell proposed it should be discussed at the Occupational Health Working Party.

A trade union representative on CONIAC said, “The HSE seems to be more interested in producing guidance than enforcing regulation … they try to ‘duck-out’ of any confrontation.”

Deep Mined Coal Industry Advisory Committee (DMCIAC)

This is the one HSC committee that came very close to being disbanded during 1998! The background to the problems can be found in the health and safety record of the privatised coal mines since the defeat of the National Union of Miners (NUM) in the strike of 1985-86, about which I have written elsewhere(16).

In April 1998, members of the committee (presumably trade union members) raised the issue of accidents and alleged tampering with safety equipment which could lead to a disaster. The Chair replied that “the Committee was not a safety committee . . . the prime purpose of the Committee was to advise the Commission on matters of policy including legislation.”

Further on, under discussion of the control of ground movement in mines consultative document, “The Trades Unions were of the opinion that to improve standards within the industry the regulations should contain prescribed distances and firmly rejected the proposal to include guidance in an Advisory Code of Practice.” Even the employers’ side noted that, “Managers preferred prescriptive regulations which are considered to provide a greater degree of protection to the decision process in the event of accidents/incidents.” The Chair had met with the Chair of the HSC and it seemed that the majority view would prevail, and that, “prescription should be kept in Coal Mining Legislation”. It was noted that fatal accidents had increased in 1997/98, but the total number of major injuries had reduced.

In June 1998 the meeting considered an HSE report of an audit of RIDDOR reporting at large coal mines. “24% of under-reporting of over 3-day accidents was found, rising to 52% when taking into account of late reporting.” The joint industry-union DMCIAC wanted prescription kept in the new coal regulations and that, “the inclusion of key support standards in guidance alone was not going to be acceptable to a significant part of the industry”. There was also concern that standards for rock bolting were in the HSC Approved Code of Practice and not the Regulations. Even the HSC were concerned about the provision for exemption in “special circumstances”.

By the HSC meeting of the 21st July 1998, both NACODS and the UDM said that they would not attend further meetings of the DMCIAC; the HSE recommended suspension of the DMCIAC. As the normally reserved HSC minutes state, “This would be a highly unusual step, taken in regrettable circumstances.” However, the HSC said the DMCIAC should still meet and HSC Commissioners agreed to meet with the trade unions (including the NUM, separately from the UDM).

By the HSC meeting of the 6th October 1998, the HSC minutes say, “The Chairman reported the problem was being solved and the Unions were returning to the IAC.”

On the 22nd June 1999, the HSC approved the new coal mining regulations, and associated Approved Code of Practice, despite NUM’s concern, “about the effectiveness of the notification regulation as it depended on mine managers recognising when they had introduced a significant change to the ground control measures.” The HSC did allow the unions to have a Standards Table in a schedule to the Regulations, and not just in the Approved Code of Practice, but the HSC notes add, “HSE’s criteria would continue to be goal setting requirements based on risk assessment.” So much for the joint union/management demand for keeping prescriptive standards!

Agriculture Industry Advisory Committee (AIAC)

Agriculture remains one of the UK’s most dangerous industries, as a proportion of the (shrinking) number employed. It constantly kills one person a week (54 in 1998/99). Some of these are children, three in 1998/99 and another three in the period April to August 1999 alone. Since 1986, 74 children under the age of 16 have been killed in the agriculture industry.

This Committee is unusual in that there are just two main representative bodies: The National Farmers’ Union (NFU), as the CBI representatives, and the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU), as the TUC representatives. There is also a CBI and MAFF observer and six HSE observers/secretarial support. It is an industry characterised by a lack of recognition of trade unions by most employers, and hence a lack of trade union safety representatives.

At the October 1997 meeting, the CBI confirmed their lack of support for the TGWU’s idea (backed by an HSE-funded study by Dr David Walters of South Bank University and considerable experience in Sweden) of ‘roving safety representatives’.

The February 1998 meeting included items such as:

  • The TUC nominees requesting more information on recent farm blitzes.
  • The HSE recommending the ‘status quo’ on children driving tractors (ie from
    13 years old) as the employers wanted. The TUC said they were raising the question with the HSC as they wanted the age limit to be raised to 16 years. The question was considered by the HSC at their meeting of 24th March 1998, but we do not know the result.
  • On the 22nd October, Alan Grant of the TUC told the HSC that the TGWU was meeting the Minister on the issue of children driving tractors on farms. This apparently had no effect as The Prevention of Accidents to Children in Agriculture Regulations 1998 allows children as young as 13 years of age to drive farm tractors and other dangerous farm equipment. At school half-term, in October 1999, the HSE appealed to the ‘good faith’ of farmers yet again by reminding them that 23 of the 74 fatal accidents to children under 16 years old, since April 1986, had been caused by farm machinery.
  • There was no agreement on roving safety representatives between the CBI/NFU and TUC/TGWU, and the HSE expressed no opinion and a meeting was arranged between the two parties at the CBI on the 3rd April 1998.
  • A paper was presented by the HSE showing that arboriculture and forestry were among the most dangerous of industries.

Finally, the Chair, Mr D J Mathey, HM Chief Inspector Agriculture, stressed that information papers were for their information, and that of immediate colleagues, only and should not be made public. In this he was a bit late, as most of the papers were to be made available to the public from 1st May 1998! But it is indicative of HSE’s ignorance, and negative attitude and, perhaps why the death, injury, and ill-health rate remains so high in agriculture.

On a personal note, as I was the health and safety co-ordinator for the TGWU from 1995 to 1998, and sat on a sub-committee of AIAC, Health in Agriculture (formerly ChemAg), as a TUC nominee, I found the employers the most unhelpful and unconstructive I have ever met. And I found the HSE inspectors totally supportive of the employers and obstructive to the unions. At another AIAC sub-committee, one of our mild mannered, but very knowledgeable on health and safety, farm worker representatives was actually physically attacked by a farmer; something which the HSE did nothing about.

Of course the farmers bear the prime responsibility for all the child and adult deaths, and suffering, on our farms; but they are well aided and abetted in this slaughter by HSE complacency.

Adventure Activities Industry Advisory Committee (AAIAC)

This is the newest HSC advisory committee and, in some ways, it provides a model – both in membership, issues discussed, and presentation of minutes and information – of how an HSC committee should work.

The AAIAC was set up as a direct result of the 1993 Lyme Bay canoeing tragedy, where four teenagers attending a commercial activity centre died. The Adventure Activity Licensing Regulations 1996 (AALR) followed, and AAIAC had its first meeting in the Spring of 1997. The minutes and papers I reviewed relate to its third, fourth and fifth meetings; all held during 1998. They were, by far, the best presented and most easily read of all the 21 sets I reviewed.

Chaired by the HSE, there is only one TUC member, and the other 15 members represent a mixture of private and public activity centres, tourism officers, training boards etc. Although the regulations are the responsibility of the HSC/HSE, in 1996 they put the operation of the licensing scheme out to tender and the contract was won by Tourism Quality Services (TQS) Cardiff, a non-profit organisation.

At the fifth meeting of AAIAC, a 1997 review of the licensing scheme and inspection was presented. It showed that:

  • 900 licences had been granted
  • 12 had been refused

By October 1998 this had risen to:

  • 907 licences had been granted
  • 19 had been refused

A further 43 were considered for refusal on the following grounds:

  • 23 on financial grounds
  • 13 due to lack of safety management systems
  • 7 due to accidents/incidents, complaints, and spot checks

However, all were resolved and none refused.10% of licence holders have a spot check during the year.

Even where licensing had been granted, there were often a considerable number of improvements required (based on a 50% sample of inspectors’ reports), such as:

  • Nearly half the providers were required to nominate at least one Technical Adviser.
  • In the area of staffing, 1 in 3 providers were requested to have in-house validations ‘signed-off’ by the appropriate Technical Adviser and the outcomes recorded.
  • 1 in 5 were required to develop a register of leaders and/or personal portfolios.
  • Nearly 1 in 10 of the providers did not check the qualifications of staff.
  • 1 in 20 were asked to ensure that accompanying staff were aware of the extent and limit of their responsibilities.
  • 1 in 10 of the providers were asked to record activities and venues in a place accessible to staff at all times. Significantly, this figure rose to 1 in 3 for the Local Authority (LA) sector!
  • 1 in 4 of providers were requested to ensure that accidents and near misses were reviewed either by the appropriate person or at staff meetings.
  • 1 in 4 were also asked to record and review near misses. The Local Authority were about 5% higher.
  • 1 in 5 providers did not have reporting back procedures nor any specific action that they should take in an emergency. For LAs this rose to 55%.
  • Over 1 in 20 were not aware of their RIDDOR responsibilities.
  • 1 in 5 of providers were requested to undertake a risk assessment of activities.
  • 1 in 5 were asked to ensure staff were aware of the activity guidelines and they were operating within them.
  • 1 in 10 of the providers had poor or unserviceable equipment.
  • 1 in 5 had no systems for monitoring and routine maintenance of equipment.
  • Over 1 in 20 providers were asked to explore methods whereby staff could meet to discuss safety issues.

As this was at the beginning, there was considerable room for improvements, but the inspectors felt that virtually all licensed providers were improving their accident reporting and emergency procedures, their risk assessments and equipment audits etc.

The three sets of minutes for 1998 that I examined, raised a series of practical problems, such as:

  • That the licence should normally be for two years, and not one.
  • That ‘Technical Advisers’ hold no formal qualifications at present.
  • That there has been no enforcement action taken by Local Authority inspectors; although by June 1998 there were six prosecutions pending.
  • There was a report-back on a pilot Scottish scheme for the inspection of 30 adventure activity providers.
  • The Professional Association of Teachers provided a very useful two pages of A4 Guide to Outdoor Activity Centres.
  • There was a problem with the Ministry of Defence and Crown Immunity.
  • There was a report-back on the Welsh scheme, in its sixth year of operation, with some 80 providers.
  • A review of comments for and against the adventure activities licensing scheme was given.

Among the useful enclosures for committee members were some helpful guidance leaflets from the Scout Association and a 65-page ‘Quality and Safety Approval Scheme’ for activity holiday providers from the Scottish Highlands and Island Enterprise Board.

In October 1998 the HSE Chair, Jane Willis, reminded the members of the committee about, “the need to avoid making public statements about issues which had been considered by the HSC”. Another example of the HSE’s ‘Freedom of Information’ policy in practice!

The growing ‘activity adventure industry’ may be one of the more simple industries to regulate (this is arguable), but it does provide a model of an effective HSC committee.

There is a certain irony in this apparently effective committee in that it has little trade union input (just one TUC member) and the health and safety inspections are effectively privatised.

The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Substances (ACDS) – a personal case study

This committee was set up as a direct result of the explosion (of ‘warlike dimensions’ according to the official Court of Enquiry) at the Nypro UK Chemical works at Flixborough on Saturday 1st June 1974. 28 people were killed, and another 36 injured. Much damage was done to the surrounding area (1,821 houses and 167 shops) and the insurance costs were £37 million. If the explosion had occurred on an ordinary working day, many more would have been killed. The cause of the explosion was traced to the failure of an unsafe temporary pipe, installed on the plant two months earlier.

I joined the committee in 1996. As what this committee recommends could have considerable cost implications for the UK chemical industry, it is one of the more important HSC committees. For example, the Committee was chaired by a high-powered HSE civil servant when I first joined (rumoured to have been appointed by Mrs Thatcher herself), as opposed to the normal senior HSE inspector. Soon after the May 1997 General Election, when New Labour took government office, he announced he was off to the ‘Better Regulation Unit’ at the Cabinet Office.

This committee operated very formally: there were three CBI members – all from the chemical or oil industry; three from the TUC – Tom Mellish, the TUC Health and Safety Policy Officer; Dave Mathews, the Health and Safety Officer of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and myself, a former chemist in the pharmaceutical industry. I think I was the first ever TUC nominee with some technical, as opposed to industrial relations, experience of the chemical industry. There were also three ‘independent’ advisers, two of whom were consultants to the chemical/oil industry and one a Professor of Chemical Engineering. There was also one local government member and observer. There were quite a few other ‘observers’ from: the HSE (sometimes 13 in number); DETR; Department of Health; Ministry of Defence; Marine Safety Agency; and North Ireland HSI.

I found the meetings very employer-dominated, supported by the HSE. This was not helped by the fact that, during the only two meetings in 1998, I was the sole trade union representative member attending the committee.

During my time on the committee I tried to raise two important issues, and failed on both accounts.

Many chemical explosions are the result of insufficient emergency venting arrangements on the chemical reactor (imagine your kettle at home did not let steam out of the spout!), necessary when the chemical reaction ‘runs away’ – as many tend to do, from time to time. The Seveso disaster in Italy was a prime example of this type of chemical reaction.

During 1996 the HSE carried out a 5% sample survey covering 94 chemical reaction vessels, to ensure that they had suitable ‘emergency relief systems’. I found the results horrifying:

  • Only 4 in 10 had carried out any form of chemical hazard assessment.
  • In 21 chemical reactors emergency relief venting was not used.
  • 1 in 3 of the companies did not have ready access to the design standards of their reactors.
  • Hardly more than 1 in 10 used the recommended methods for the designing of the emergency venting.

Therefore of 92 chemical reactors inspected, 18 were unsafe. As this was a 5% sample, there were around 370 unsafe chemical reactors in the UK.

Not surprisingly I was very concerned about this issue and raised it at several ACDS meetings. I wanted details of HSE enforcement action, and this was refused, and it was said to be outside the remit of ACDS in any case (just whose remit is it in then?). The HSE suggested an information leaflet, but Professor Nolan of South Bank University said at an ACDS meeting that he had been “informing” the chemical industry of this hazard for the past 10 years, to no great effect. Why were there no prosecutions and/or Enforcement Notices issued?

The HSE published a guidance leaflet on Chemical Reaction Hazards and the risk of Thermal Runaway in 1997 and ACDS promised to re-visit the issue again in two years’ time.

The second issue occurred when the HSE published(17) their detailed report on the 1994 explosion at Texaco, Milford Haven. By luck, the huge explosion was on a Sunday and only 26 people were injured although there was massive damage to the site costing around £100 million.

I was at the site of this explosion visiting one of my nieces and her children that day and even observed, and photographed, the explosion from within a danger zone (unawares), until the police eventually moved us on. Texaco and Gulf Oil, who ran the plant, pleaded guilty to offences under the Health and Safety etc at Work Act 1974 and were fined £200,000, plus £143,700 costs in 1996.

Therefore, having read the HSE report of the explosion, which was published in September 1997, I requested an HSE presentation at ACDS on the causes and lesson from the explosion. This took place on the 14th May 1998 ACDS meeting. I was very concerned at the catalogue of many management errors and omissions. And the conclusion from one ACDS independent observer was that, “We have really learned nothing from Flixborough.” I thought the HSE views about the corrosion at the plant, a known sticky valve, dangerous plant modifications, and the commercial pressures to keep a dangerous plant running were very complacent. I felt that this HSE complacency put both the members I represented operating these chemical plants, and the general public, at risk. As Dave Mathews, National Health and Safety Officer for the Fire Brigades Union and a member of ACDS for seven years, said, “The HSC/HSE officials lean towards the CBI.” What could I do?

I wrote to Alan Grant, TUC/HSC member, on 28th May 1998 outlining my concerns. He replied on 2nd July: “Your letter raises issues which touch on the role of Advisory Committees (and HSC). On enforcement, for example, IACs and the HSC have no direct role as, on a day-to-day basis this would effectively mean managing staff and their priorities – something we are not allowed to do at HSC level. We can, of course, point up areas of work, which we feel require greater attention, but we cannot ‘direct’ as such.”

“Your reservations about COMAH seem to be not that the regulations themselves are deficient, but that compliance leaves a lot to be desired. I can take this up at a suitable point.”

He suggested a meeting with himself and Tom Mellish, the TUC Health and Safety Policy Officer who is a member of ACDs, which took place in September 1998. The only outcome of this meeting was that Tom Mellish would request of the HSE that my complaints about the HSE Texaco investigation and actions go on ACDS’s next meeting agenda as an issue. Then Alan Grant would have been able to raise it legitimately at an HSC meeting, because the HSC see all the agendas and minutes of ACDS meetings.

However, when I saw the 12th November 1998 ACDS agenda, there was no such item upon it. On 2nd November I wrote to Tom Mellish at the TUC expressing my anger at this lack of interest and saying that I would have to resign from ACDS and make the reason public (ie employer domination and lack of TUC concern). Alan Grant had by this time left the TUC, and hence was no longer an HSC Commissioner. On 6th November 1998 Tom Mellish of the TUC replied to me, suggesting yet another meeting but saying that neither he nor the TUC could really take this issue up, and concluding, “In the event that you are not satisfied with this response then I can only suggest that you discuss with the national officers of the TGWU on the use of yours and the union’s limited time and resources in another way which you feel would be more effective.” I half expected the employers to suggest I resign, even the HSE would not have surprised me, but I was shocked by this defensive and irresponsible reply from the TUC!

I did attend the ACDS meeting on 12th November, and I was the only TUC nominee in attendance. For other reasons, I resigned from the TGWU in December 1998. The main concerns at ACDS now seem to be HSE’s charging regime for COMAH.

My experiences on ACDS give me little faith that we will not have another Flixborough in the UK. In the 22 years since Flixborough there have been 20 major explosions at UK plants, costing(18) at least £500m at 1996 prices, fortunately with no loss of life – clearly for reasons mainly of luck – rather than ACDS. But luck has a habit of running out.

Reviewing 30 years of ‘loss prevention’ in the chemical industry in 1999 (Transactions of the Institute of Chemical Engineers, Volume 77, part B, pages 109-116, May 1999) Professor T A Kletz – the grand old man of UK chemical engineering safety – said, “I wish I could say that the situation is improving but, if anything, as a result of downsizing and earlier retirements, it is getting worse.”

Some recommendations

  • The meetings of the HSC should be open to the public, as those of the Environment Agency Board are, for example.
  • An independent group should assess what minutes and papers, or parts of papers, should be confidential. They should justify their decisions.
  • A Department of Trade, Environment, and the Regions (DETR) Committee should look into the role of the HSC and its committees. They should produce a consultative document on the future of the HSC and its committees.
  • The composition of the HSC needs reforming and its remit. Should it, for example, consider environmental issues – especially for SMEs?
  • The HSC should be more independent of the HSE and have its own secretariat, budget, and be able to commission research.
  • The format and style of the HSC committees should be made more accessible and papers more informative and relevant; the new HSC Adventure Activities Advisory Committee provides a model here.
  • Representative groups supplying members to advisory committees (eg CBI, TUC, local government, consumer groups and environmental groups) need to co-odinate their delegates and train/inform/support them.
  • There may well be a role for regional forums, along the lines of those created by the Environment Agency and as recommended by the recent(19) report of the Institute of Employment Rights.
  • The trade unions should critically assess their role on the HSC and its committees.


The employers

In a wider sense, it is very surprising that the HSC, with its representation of trade unionists, survived the ‘Thatcher years’ at all. One important reason for the survival of the HSC/HSE was given by John Rimington, a former Director General of the HSE for 11 years, who said(20) in his 1995 valedictory speech:

“[health and safety] is highly political with a small ‘p’ … The Commission and Executive have achieved authority in dealing with this explosive, touchy area of politics. If the Executive announce an investigation of some particularly horrid accident, the press generally shut up and cease to demand a public enquiry … Such services are extremely valuable to Ministers.”

This political value – coupled with its ineffectiveness in really reducing workplace ill-health – no doubt accounts for its continued existence under the Tories. Yet, even John Rimington, in his final reflections, commented that, “Given the scope of HSE’s work, and the direction it has taken, there is clearly a question about the composition of the Health and Safety Commission.”

Some years ago an American academic observed(21) with regard to the HSC that, “The relationship between the TUC and CBI is particularly close. The unions have voluntarily accorded the employers a veto over health and safety regulations …” As the above research shows, nothing has changed. In recent interviews(22), Sir Frank Davies – recently retired Chair of the HSC after six years in office, and a CBI nominee – boasts, “At the HSC, I have never had a vote, never once,” he emphasises, “not in 136 Commission meetings.”

Sometimes, of course, this unity or ‘consensus’ can be useful. Like the one and only time the HSC issued a press release(2) against the government policy of the day. Under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), among other ‘welfare reforms’, the Labour government of the 1970s wanted to delay the 1977 Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations. There was an outcry from the trades unions, hazards campaigners and others, including the HSC who said in 1976, “We wish to express our unanimous and strongly held view that the (Safety Representatives and Safety Committees) Regulations should be laid before Parliament without delay.” Pretty strong stuff!

But throughout the HSC cuts of the 1970s and 1980s, under the deregulatory government of Mrs Thatcher, not a whisper from the HSC. The useless ‘deregulation debate’ came and went – taking up years of HSC/HSE/industry/trade union committee time. In March 1996 a letter from the Chair of the HSC, Frank Davies, to John Gummer MP, then Secretary of State for the Environment, was leaked(2) to the press. This was reported in the press (The Guardian, 7th December 1998) as, “CBI pleads for paler green law.” Davies said in part of his letter, “We cannot meet all the expectations and requirements the Government, Parliament and the Courts are placing on us with the resources now available … We must therefore ask the Government to make available additional running cost resources, totalling £5 million, £6 million, and £7 million (in the next three years).” This leak did cause some public debate at the time. The TUC nominees denied vehemently that they leaked it and I, for one, believe them. More openness of advice to Ministers would let the public know who, and who does not, care about these issues.

Given this background, it is small wonder then that the CBI, in December 1998(23), called for an extension of the ‘successful’ (for them) health and safety approach to environmental laws! In the first half of the 1990s I was involved in an EU-funded project to reduce internal and external pollution from printing works. The idea was(2) to replace the hazardous and polluting solvents (eg ‘white spirit’) used to wash the coloured inks off the printing rollers, by much safer vegetable oils (eg coconut oil); as had been done successfully in Denmark. Part of this project involved me being nominated to a then Department of the Environment (DoE) committee that was setting the emissions standards for the amount of solvent printing works could emit to the air (ie the amount they were allowed to pollute), as a part-B process of the 1990 Environment Protection Act. To my surprise, this committee was totally dominated by the print industry and its advisers. The air pollution standards that were set and enforced were consequently awful.

This led me, via a 1995 Parliamentary Ombudsman enquiry(24), to demonstrate that all the 78 other DoE committees, set up to control pollution from the many industrial part-B processes, were totally dominated by industry. The publication of this report caused some press and media interest at the time.

Heaven help the environment if the CBI is successful in its attempts to impose the HSC’s current ‘tripartite’ model on the Environment Agency!


The HSE enthusiasm for these HSC committees is easy to explain by the comment(25) of John Rimington, Director General of the HSE from 1984-1995, “the HSW Act subordinates the HSE to the HSC; but the HSE soon became the HSC’s right arm and main adviser.” The HSE tail has always wagged the HSC dog!

The BSE scandal(26) and, more recently, the GMO debate has shown government, and the general population, the vital need for good quality independent advice that is not dominated by the needs of industry or government. There must be real, and effective (ie their views are taken into account and acted upon) input by consumers, workers, environmentalists, and others (eg NGOs) to the decision-making process and the process must be transparent.

In an increasingly complex world, trust functions as a substitute for knowledge(27). The analysis and reforms to the HSC, and its committees, suggested above will enable working people to have more trust that the HSC will protect their health in the 21st century.

The trade unions

Perhaps less easy to explain is the enthusiasm(28) for this system by the TUC. Maybe, since their influence and membership has been declining for the last 20 years, they are just ‘hanging on’ to any recognition by government of their existence. And a few knighthoods, MBEs, and the like do come out of this system for trade unionists. I can only guess the 100 or so HSC trade union committee members think it worth their while. I cannot say that this research has shown that the trade union involvement, overall, has improved, or even defended, the health of employees. At a recent House of Commons Select Committee enquiry into the HSE(29), Owen Tudor of the TUC was asked by the MPs what changes he would like to see at the HSE. He, as an HSC member, could practically think of none. He was bailed out a bit by his boss, John Monks, who mentioned the old chestnut of more resources for the HSE etc.

In December 1999 the Institute of Employment Rights launched the results(19) of their two-year enquiry into the state of health and safety in the UK, since the Robens enquiry 25 years before. At the conference to launch the report, the TUC Senior Policy Officer and HSC Commissioner, Owen Tudor, was asked by the author whether he felt the CBI had dominated the HSC over the years. “Not at all.” he firmly replied. “The trade unions have three HSC members and there are two ex-Labour party councillors plus an independent. We are the majority.” So I then asked him if this was the case, didn’t he feel some responsibility for the high incidence of illness and ill-health at work? “Ah, that’s because the HSC works within an administrative framework.” he replied. I wonder if the many victims of work-related ill-health feel satisfied with that answer?

Improved workplace health and safety remains central to the main demands of many working people, not least trade union representatives. The 1998 Workplace Employees Relations Survey (WERS 98) shows quite clearly the declining influence of the unions at the workplace; less than 1 in 3 of 30,000 people interviewed felt unions made any difference at the workplace. Yet, of the 800 union reps interviewed(30), 2 in 3 had dealt with health and safety issues in the past year.

This, along with “the treatment of employees by management” is one of the two major key areas of activity for workplace union reps.

The Environment Minister, Michael Meacher MP – who was also responsible for health and safety – was asked by a committee(29) of MPs in November 1999 whether he felt the HSC was still relevant today. He replied along the lines: “I think the HSC does a pretty good job. I attended a meeting of the HSC two weeks’ ago and was most impressed by the lack of partisan views on the HSC. In fact, I could tell little difference between the CBI and TUC representatives!”

A few days after he spoke, I was on a demonstration in support of five bricklayers who were sacked for having the cheek to question the hazards of deadly asbestos they were working around. They had been working in dangerous conditions for some six months. The HSE visited, only in response to a complaint by the brickies’ trade union, and then put several Prohibition Notices on the site. Whilst this confirmed the fears of the workers as being justified, it did little to protect their health or employment. Why did the HSE not act before? This prestigious Laing’s site at Admiralty Arch is a stone’s throw from the House of Commons, and I informed the House of Commons Committee enquiry(29) that they should visit, to see workplace reality today. What are the trade union members of the HSC doing to protect such workers?

In late November 1999 up to 4,000 BT staff, at 40 UK call centres, went on strike for the first time ever. The issues were: stress, bullying, inadequate staffing, and short-term contracts. 400,000 people now work in call centres. As a result of their strike, the HSE is to investigate call centre conditions. Why should it take a strike to get the HSE to investigate the workers’ complaints? Why has this issue never been raised by the trade union representatives on the HSC? Why is there no HSC Committee for Call Centres?

“Consensus” – or the more fashionable word “partnership” – which is now creeping into the HSC minutes – may still be possible(1) at the top of trade unions, in some of the larger workplaces or with a few progressive employers. For those who don’t work in these privileged positions – the majority in my view – and for many not in trade unions at all, and at the ‘cutting edge’ of the workplace or the home, it has no meaning. Their health at work should be defended by the HSC. In this research on the activities of the trade union membership of the HSC and its committees, I am reminded of the last sentence of George Orwell’s Animal Farm:

The creatures outside looked from pig to man,
and from man to pig, and from pig to man again:
but it was already impossible to say which was which


Appendix 1: Freedom of Information and the HSE

The HSC minutes from the 1st May 1998, and the papers they receive, are publicly available, but they have to be vetted for any confidential items (this has not been done before, as I was the first person to ask to see them!). The cost of doing this, and the photocopying (2073 pages, 110 papers excluding minutes and agendas) was estimated to be £1,335.67 by the HSE Open Government Unit, in September 1999. Freedom of Information, to those who can afford it. The charging policy is not new. In 1995 I asked the HSE for copies of all the Improvement and Prohibition Notices for 1993/94. I was given an estimate of the costs £266,399.41p! I declined their kind offer. However, it is possible to visit three HSE Information Centres – in London 0171 717 6104; Bootle, 0151 951 4382 and Sheffield, 0114 289 2330 – and inspect the HSC minutes and documents. Less complete documents can be inspected and/or bits of them which the HSE has censored (sometimes completely and sometimes very heavily) and photocopies taken at a reasonable charge.

The HSE is like to give the impression it is are very open with its information. They say in the opening lines of their booklet, Policy Statement on Open Government, “The Health and Safety Commission and Executive have always been as open as possible with health and safety information and the work they do.” But my experience, over many years, is that they often have to be forced, by a parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (the Ombudsman) investigation, to reveal any information that is of real use. My eight-year fight to get hold of the HSC Advisory Committee papers confirms this view.

During 1992 I first attempted to get hold of the minutes of the Advisory Committee on Toxic Substances (ACTS) and Working Group on the Assessment of Toxic Chemicals (WATCH) minutes. In December 1992 Mr J M Devine of the HSE wrote to me saying that “Our legal advice is that … your request does not seem to fall within our statutory powers to disclose.” I wrote to several members of the two committees asking for their views and one told me he had to be cautious, because he has been “ticked off” for commenting critically on a final decision of ACTS about a particular standard for a substance.

In August 1995 I complained to the Ombudsman about this, and some other HSE actions on Freedom of Information, and he reported on the 8th January 1997 (case A.32/95). This report does show how the HSE has to be forced to release any information, but the HSE maintained its 1992 position on non-disclosure and the Ombudsman thought my request for information was “too general”. But, he added in his report, paragraph 26, “If Mr Dalton were to ask HSE in more specific terms for information about the meetings of HSC and those committees in which he is interested, I would expect HSE to consider such a request afresh and on its own merits.” So back I went to the HSE with a more specific request . . .

Then followed a long series of letters between myself and Jenny Bacon, Director General of the HSE, which eventually resulted in the final publication of all the HSC minutes for 1998 at a cost of around £220. The minutes were complete but the HSE noted, “Some Committees felt that the candour of discussion would be harmed so names have been removed under Exemption 2 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.”

On the way to gaining this information, on the 6th September 1995, Mr Ian Drummond, Head of HSE’s Open Government Unit (!), sent a secret memo on myself to HSE Heads of Division, in which he said, in part:

“Mr Dalton is well versed in the duties of public authorities under the open government initiative and would pick up on any diversity or inconsistency of approach by HSE in responding to his requests for information. He has not hesitated in the past to exploit publicly replies he has received from HSE where he feels that this would cause us embarrassment…the Open Government Unit should be informed of all requests for information made by Mr Dalton.”

I, of course, was unaware of this secret memo. Then another secret memo, from Mr Drummond, adding three other people to the “persistent enquirers list” – David Bergman, Rory O’Neill and Dr Charles Woolfson – became public in May 1998 in an article in The Observer headed, “Civil servants are told to turn ‘spy’.” The article noted this second HSE memo was, “more reminiscent of Russia in the 1930s than Britain in the 1990s”.

In October 1998 the Ombudsman upheld (Report A.7/99) another complaint of mine against the HSE for withholding information, this time on workplace stress. As this pamphlet clearly shows, the fight goes on to make the HSE a truly open organisation. In December 1999 the HSE’s chief spy master, Ian Drummond, informed me that the HSC “will shortly” consider having meetings in public and putting all papers and minutes on the internet, subject to the exemptions of the Code of Practice on Freedom of Information but that, “the Government’s Freedom of Information Bill contains stronger protections from disclosure of advice to Ministers.” One pressurised HSE step forward, one New Labour government step backwards!

Reader, why not apply to the HSE to join the ‘gang of four’ in the ‘persistent enquirers to the HSE club’, by asking for some useful HSE information that you need to improve health and safety at work: membership is free!

Appendix 2: Some examples of recent HSC/HSE censorship

From 1st May 1999 until late 1999, below are some examples of reports/documents seen by HSC commissioners that are censored, or ‘fully closed’ in HSE jargon, to the public. Perhaps the charging papers should be confidential (at least whilst in negotiation), for some of the others, from their titles, it is not clear why they are secret. And why for some, no titles at all? Who is big HSE brother (or sister) protecting?

Responding to the Transport Review, 25th May 1999 (HSC/99/105).

The Prime Minister’s Strategic Appraisal of Health and Safety, 11th May 1999 (HSC/99/131).

Proposed Agreement with DTI on Funding of Work: Lifts and Press Equipment Product Division, 22nd June 1999 (HSC/99/51).

?, 19th July, 1999 (HSC/99/158).

HSC Appointment to Executive, 22nd June 1999 (HSC/99/165).

Draft Proposals for the Implementation of Charges for COMAH, 9th February 1999 (HSC/99/37).

Charges for the Assessment of Safety Cases for Gas, Offshore and Railway Industries, 13th April 1999 (HSC/99/13).

European and Domestic Progress on a Ban on the Marketing and Use of White Asbestos, by Kim Tichias, HSE Health Division, 9th February 1999 (HSC/99/49).

Partially Open: FBU Proposals for a Fire Safety Commission, 23rd February 1999 (HSC/99/51) practically the only item to survive the HSE censor was the FBU proposals; all the HSC recommendations, costs, implications, conclusions etc were lost.

Future Strategy on Passive Smoking in the Workplace, 21st July 1999 (HSC/99/14).

?, 3rd November 1998 (HSC/98/154).

Draft Charges for Assessing Safety Reports for COMAH, 17th November 1998 (HSC/98/155).

A Paper by Bob Ledsonae (in what?), 1st November 1998 (HSC/98/209).

The Effect of Regulation 26 etc PUWER 1998 have on the Hire and Lease Industry, 3rd November 1998 (HS/98/210).

Import, Marketing and Use of White Asbestos, 3rd November (Misc/98/59).

Appendix 3: Some examples of where ‘advice to Ministers’
is withheld under ‘Freedom of Information’ exemptions.

HSC Meeting        Issue(s)

21.10.1997                 Duty to survey buildings on asbestos.

21.10.1999          Scope for further action on noise.

3.11.1998          Amendment to asbestos worker protection legislation.

3.11.1998          Amending regulations to proposed carriage of dangerous goods.

1.12.1998          Consultation on the new COSHH regulations.

15.12.1998          Dangerous goods safety adviser.

15.12.1998          Exemptions from COMAH regulations.

25.1.1999          Replacement of the law on quarries.

26.1.1999          Revision of carriage of dangerous goods regulations.

26.1.1999          1999/2000 HSC plan of work.

25.5.1999          Asbestos prohibition regulations.

22.6.1999          Report on whistle-blowing initiatives.

22.6.1999          Replacement of the law to control ground movement in mines.

22.6.1999          Report on access to occupational health support (the accompanying

report, HSC/99/98 was so severely censored by the HSE as to be

practically useless!).

19.7.1999          DTI proposals for amendments to the working time directive.

17.8.1999          IOM study on sheep dip hazards.

17.8.1999          BNFL public/private partnership proposals.

7.9.1999          Nuclear reactor decommissioning.

7.9.1999          Whistle-blowing initiatives.

30.9.1999          Progress on agriculture safety.


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  3. Safety and Health at Work (1972) Report of the Committee, Chair Lord Robens, HMSO, Cmnd. 5034.
  4. eg Nichols, T (1997) The Sociology of Industrial Injury, Mansell.
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  14. As said in front of 50 witnesses, in reply to a question by the author, at a TUC Safety Convention on 19-20th March 1998.
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  23. CBI (1998) Worth the Risk: improving environmental legislation.
  24. Parliamentary Ombudsman, Report A.9/95 (1995).
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