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Embargoed: 6.00 am, Tuesday 12th August 2003

HSE reduces number of Investigations into Workplace Major Injuries

The HSE is planning to reduce the number of major injuries that its inspectors will investigate, and the amount of time that its inspectors will spend on the investigations that they do carry out.

These plans are contained in new instructions that the HSE have sent to its inspectors. The instruction to reduce time spent on investigations is in force now throughout Britain. The plan to reduce the number of investigations is being piloted in the North West of England - though the intention is for this to go Nationwide.

The purpose of these changes is to increase the time that its inspectors can spend on inspections and other similiar 'preventative' activity.

The HSE believes that the organisation has become too focused on the investigation of deaths, injuries and other incidents and should "restore a largely preventative focus." HSE states in its new instruction that:

"Time spent on investigation work by FOD has risen substantially since the revised [investigation] criteria were introduced in April 2001. With finite resources, this work has been completed at the expense of preventive work.
To get a better balance FOD has looked at both its management of investigations and the incident selection criteria. FOD envisages an increase in proactive activity to halfway between the current position and that in 1995/96. This should still meet the pressure to investigate a higher proportion of reported injuries (than HSE did in the late nineties) while restoring a largely preventive focus."

Reducing time spent on investigations
HSE inspectors have been instructed to "conclude investigations as early as possible" (para 4). This instruction came into force in June 2003.

The HSE argues that:

"A review of the time we spent on investigations last year showed that while the number of investigations had dropped, the total time spent on them had remained the same. To help to sharpen the focus of our investigation effort and better manage investigations we revised existing FOD wide performance standards and included new criteria for concluding investigation."

In relation to this, David Bergman, Director of the CCA said:

"Although, it is important for HSE inspectors to investigate efficiently, and for investigations to be properly managed, there must be a concern that the explicit instruction to "conclude investigations as early as possible" could result in inspectors feeling under pressure to conclude an inquiry with undue haste when other reasonable lines of enquiry could be made - even though this is not the intention of the HSE."

Reducing Injuries Investigated
The HSE has revised the criteria used by inspectors to determine which of the reported injuries should be investigated. These are currently being piloted in the North West of England and the HSE admits that they will "result in fewer investigations being initiated".

The new criteria will mean that:

- No longer will, "all amputations of digit(s) past the first joint" be investigated.

Now, only those amputations of digits past the first joint "where the incident involved potential for more than one finger or for hand/arm amputation";
- No longer will there be a requirement to investigate "serious multiple fractures (more than on bone, not including wrist or ankle" from whatever cause.

Now it will only be necessary to investigate such injuries is they result from a "crush injury" or they are associated with "workplace transport" or "falls from height"
- It will no longer be necessary to investigate "scalpings"
- it will no longer be necessary to investigate "any incident which arose out of working in a confined space"

At present the HSE investigates about 20% of major injuries reported to it. In 2000/01 this was around 4,330 out of 22,400 reported injuries(1)) - an increase from five years earlier where it only investigated 10% of major injuries.

If the HSE were to reduce the number of injuries investigated to a level midway between 1996/7 and 2000/01 - around 1000 fewer injuries could be investigated constituting a fall of 25% from the current levels. In effect a total of 15% of major injuries will be investigated - rather than 20% now and 10% five years ago.

The HSE are however cautious in stating how many fewer injuries will be investigated and what the percentages will be.

HSE have told the CCA that that it will be "actively monitoring the pilot on an ongoing basis as it progresses - so we will be aware of and able to respond to issues as they arise." In addition the investigation procedure will be internally audited by the HSE in the autumn.

These new instructions comes in the wake of a below inflation increase in resources - announced by the Government in December 2002. The effect of this, according to CCA analysis, is that the £260 million that the HSE can spend in 2005/6 is £12 million less than the amount that a simple inflation increase (of 3%) would have given. It will in fact result in HSE spending less money in 2005/6 than it will be spending in 2003/4.

The HSE however argues that these changes have nothing to do with budget cuts - but how the HSE manages the resources that it is given.

David Bergman, Director of the CCA, stated:

"This proposal raises questions about whether the HSE is adequately resourced. It is clear that the principle way for the HSE to increase the level of inspections and other preventative work is to decrease the level of investigations. Whilst increasing the level of inspections cannot be criticised, there must be worries that the HSE can only do this by decreasing the level of investigations.

Reducing the level of investigations will mean that the conduct of those organisations responsible for the injuries will not be scrutinised by HSE inspectors. This will mean that the conditions that caused the injuries may not be rectified. It will also result in a reduction in the level of criminal accountability as without an investigation no organisation or individual can be prosecuted."

To read a more detailed summary of the proposed changes and its effects, and read the letter that the HSE sends out to workers complaining that their injuries have not been investigated click here. To download the instructions click here

To obtain more information contact:

Centre for Corporate Accountability 020 7 490 4494

1. These figures relate to Field Operations Directorate which comprise 90% of HSE's activities. It is in FOD that these changes are taking place.




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