Local authorities should do more to target stress and occupational health risks in the sectors they regulate, and use income from Fee for Intervention to shore up their declining presence in health and safety regulation, according to a new report from MPs.

The All-Party Group on Occupational Safety and Health report also calls for an “evidence-based” approach to targeting the reduced resources available to local authorities.

It cites the latest HSE statistics, for 2016/17, which show a 65% fall in the number of health and safety inspections and interventions between 2010 and 2016.

The report argues that sectors regulated by local authorities – including retail, warehousing, offices, and consumer and leisure businesses – should not be seen as “low risk”, arguing that they often have higher rates of occupational diseases such as back pain or work-related stress even if injury rates are lower.

On FFI, the MPs call for local authorities to have the power to charge businesses by the hour for advice and inspection follow-ups, saying: “The all-party group however is concerned that the fee regime has not been extended to local authority enforcement.

“This is a major inconsistency and could prove to be an incentive to local councils to improve their levels of enforcement activity.”

Members of the All-Party Group on Occupational Safety and Health also urged the HSE to take a more active role in “Primary Authority Schemes”, which the MPs argue can reduce the scrutiny given to businesses that sign up to them.

“Information on the health and safety inspection and enforcement performance of individual authorities should be more easily available, including historical comparisons”

Under the Primary Authority Scheme, a business operating in several locations can opt to be regulated by one local authority, paying it a fee for advice and inspections.

However, the arrangement can mean that other local authorities – which may have local intelligence on the business’s operations in their area – have limited ability to inspect or challenge.

Hugh Robertson, health and safety policy officer at the TUC, said : “An evidence-based enforcement policy would be based on the likely risk in a sector, including occupational illnesses. At the moment it is very safety-based, so stress is not included.

“In terms of the primary authority scheme, the HSE could ensure consistency and genuine involvement. Some only seem to be on paper. They would also allow local authorities with workplaces covered by another council’s PA scheme to challenge any decisions of the PA.”

 

The MPs also want to see a return to the practice of local authorities visiting every new business in their area, providing a chance to positively influence the business on health and safety practices at an early stage.

However, the report is not calling for a major shake-up in the distribution of power between the HSE and local authorities, pointing out that their local knowledge is a key advantage in regulating for health and safety.

On the other hand, it does argue that more HSE and local authority inspectors should be “flexibly warranted”, allowing each to act in the other’s domain where it is practical to do so.

For instance, some businesses with different types of operations, such as Royal Mail, are inspected by both regulators.

On the decline in local authority regulation, the report says that in 2010/11 there were 6780 enforcement notices issued by local authorities, which dropped to 220 by 2017/17, a 64% decline.

The report says: “This means far fewer employers are being brought to justice. This does not appear to be because fewer employers are putting their workforce at risk as there has been no fall in injury or ill-health statistics.”

The latest statistics on local authority enforcement, compiled from the “LAE1” returns from local authorities, also show that the number of “full time equivalent” (FTE) inspectors has halved since 2010, at 543 for every local authority in Great Britain compared to 1020 in 2010.

 

Several councils report having 0.2 FTE inspectors, suggesting that one inspector spends one day a week on health and safety enforcement.

The HSE’s figures also point to inconsistency in the level of activity undertaken by councils.

For instance, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets has six FTE inspectors to regulate 11,108 premises but made only 16 interventions in 2016/17, while Glasgow City Council has nine FTE inspectors to regulate 15,846 premises and made 650 interventions. 

Meanwhile, statistics on the number of prosecutions carried out annually by local authorities in England and Wales, and the number of enforcement notices, are aggregated with the HSE’s own figures to give overall totals.

This practice was criticised by the MPs behind the report, who recommended that “information on the health and safety inspection and enforcement performance of individual authorities should be more easily available, including historical comparisons”.

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