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Before FFI the information freely flowed

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On 4 September, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published the findings of an independent review of Fee for Intervention (FFI) – a review undertaken in response to recommendations concerning the FFI set out in the Triennial Review of HSE. The review had concluded that shifting the cost of regulating workplace health and safety from the public purse to businesses who break the law has proven effective and should stay.


The review led by Professor Alan Harding of the University of Liverpool runs to 38 pages and rests on two extensive surveys of dutyholders and HSE inspectors undertaken for HSE by HSL. The findings of these two surveys are voluminous – 43 interviews were conducted with HSE inspectors and principal inspectors; over 2,600 dutyholders were contacted by HSL of whom 438 were surveyed. By no means was this a cursory review.

The main findings are that FFI has been effective in achieving the policy of shifting the cost of health and safety regulation from the public purse to non-compliant businesses; an acknowledgement that FFI has not been popular with some inspectors and dutyholders; a recognition that FFI has been costly in terms of altering the dutyholder/inspector relationship, and that there was no evidence of HSE was using FFI as a cash cow.

The review recommended HSE to ensure that its system for targeting inspections was robust, with a clear focus on those organisations seeking to gain a commercial advantage through a disregard for the law.

It also advised that the investigation and enforcement regime operated by HSE under FFI should be extended to “other enforcement regimes in the longer term”. We can only take this to mean the health and safety enforcement activities carried out by local authorities.

Fee for Intervention, as originally introduced, did not present a level playing field and impacted disproportionately on the construction, manufacturing and service sectors. If the argument runs that those in breach should bear the cost of enforcement, then logic dictates that this should apply irrespective of the sector the non-compliant organisation operates in.

It is not possible within the confines of one page to truly capture the wealth of evidence coming out of the operation of FFI, the surveys and the resulting review. However, three particular issues are important to flag up. There is no conclusive evidence that FFI, in support of enforcement, has incentivised organisations to improve their health and safety.

As the review authors note, it is not possible to conclude that the operation of FFI over a relatively short period of time has helped raise health and safety standards.

The review sought to establish the impact of FFI on inspectors. It noted that “HSE acknowledges that many inspectors have not welcomed the introduction of FFI, in particular they dislike some of its internal processes”. It notes, for example, that whereas 13 inspectors left FOD South East Region in 2011/12, that is the year before the introduction of FFI, 37 inspectors left in 2013/14. There is also anecdotal evidence that some older inspectors have left as a result of not wanting to work within a cost-recovery regime.

Just over half of the dutyholders subject to an FFI charge surveyed reported that they would no longer be seeking advice from HSE on future inspection visits. Dutyholders expressed concerns that raising issues and seeking advice could potentially result in a material breach that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. One of them said that before FFI the information freely flowed.

I end with the words of one dutyholder surveyed: “there are a lot of back street places out there that do need to be policed and improved. The problem is that people who would really appreciate advice are those that probably need it and they’re never going to ask for it now.”

Neal Stone is director of policy and communications at the British Safety Council

 

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