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Health & Safety

Writing exclusively for MQR Magazine, Martin Isles, QPA director of health and safety, charges the HSE with failing adequately to support quarry firms’ desires to reach target zero and calls on the government body to lower its administration cholesterol and improve its stakeholder involvement.

When it comes to health and safety metrics, QPA is in a league of its own among its peers. Such is the unified determination to reach zero injuries, that for over four years it has been a condition of membership for all companies with operations in Great Britain to provide their health & safety performance data to the QPA on a quarterly basis.

It is testament to this determination that 100% compliance is achieved routinely. And if we can achieve this in the QPA, then so can other organisations.

So, we are here throwing down the gauntlet and urging our European counterparts to pursue similar policies.

Every year since 1999 the QPA has been able to report a decrease in the number of injuries. However, this continued success has brought about the realisation that the focus on direct employees must be extended to contractors and hauliers.

Also, as a result of the QPA’s success in reducing RIDDOR injuries, a change of emphasis is in progress, away from RIDDOR and on to Lost Time Injuries (one shift or more).

Nevertheless, these internal changes alone are deemed insufficient, and so the scope of QPA’s studies is extending to include the performance of other stakeholders. One of the most important of these is, of course, the industry’s regulator the Health and Safety Executive.

Challenges facing the ‘new’ Health and Safety Executive

A quiet metamorphosis has occurred in this Government Agency whereby, as from 1 April 2008, the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) has merged with the Executive (HSE) to form a single national regulatory body “responsible for promoting the cause of better health and safety at work”.

The merged body is called the Health and Safety Executive and – we are assured – will provide “greater clarity and transparency whilst maintaining its public accountability”.

In furtherance of these assurances, Judith Hackitt CBE, chair of the board of the new HSE, is quoted as saying: “With a single regulatory body we will be able to strengthen the links between strategy and delivery in order to provide the accountability expected of a public body in today’s workplace climate”.

The QPA very much welcomes this change in governance. However, we believe that some of the key challenges for the new HSE will be to address the following issues, which are perceived by the quarrying and quarry products industry to be constraining progress towards achievement of the zero injuries target.

  • HSE charging for specialist guidance documents
  • Dysfunction between HSE ‘policy’ and HSE Field Operations Directorate
  • Confusion caused by geographic inconsistencies
  • Serious depletion of specialist HSE Quarries Inspectors

HSE charging policy

The former HSC is on record as upholding, as ‘right’, the organisation’s policy to charge for specialist guidance documents “ provide an income stream to recompense the HSE resources involved”.

This cannot be ‘right’! Constraining the purchase of guidance to those so inclined to pay is directly contrary to the stated aims of the ‘new’ HSE to “...promote the cause of better health and safety at work”. This policy is a poor substitute for proper Government funding of the HSE.

Dysfunction between HSE ‘policy’ and HSE Field Operations Directorate

Clear evidence exists to support this assertion. There is an overt preference by the HSE’s Field Operations Directorate to condone a predisposition by some inspectors to issue enforcement notices, rather than promote constructive dialogue through HSE advisory committees.The QPA is mindful of Sir Winston Churchill’s wisdom in saying that it is better to “jaw-jaw” than “war-war”.

An acknowledged exemplar of such committees, the tripartite Quarries National Joint Advisory Committee (QNJAC) – chaired by the HSE – provides a full range of stakeholder engagement, strongly supported by the industry and the trades unions. However, recent actions of some inspectors are causing the industry to question the ability of the HSE to act as a coherent body.

Geographical inconsistencies within the HSE

It is unhelpful in the extreme for industry to be given disparate messages by HSE inspectors, dependent upon one’s geographical location. It is accepted that communications can be a challenge in any large organisation but the HSE has a particular responsibility to provide clarity and transparency – as Judith Hackitt has said.

Depletion of specialist HSE quarries inspectors

Until recently, there were nine specialist quarries inspectors in the HSE to cover the whole of Great Britain. Two have now moved – one is off due to long-term sickness and another is about to retire.

The industry is particularly concerned and needs to be reassured that this major erosion of specialist HSE resources will be redressed as a matter of some urgency.

Senior HSE managers will surely appreciate that the vagaries of our country’s geological heritage confer a set of unique geotechnical attributes on every single quarry and, in many cases, on every discrete bench or face within a quarry.

This inherent geotechnical variability, coupled with our industry’s major civil use of explosives, requires that the HSE is suitably resourced to regulate appropriately.

The current, and imminent, further depletion of the HSE’s specialist quarries inspectors is bringing into question the competence of the HSE to discharge its specialist functions correctly and proportionately.

HSE urged to engage more constructively

It is pleasing to note that Judith Hackitt imbues a refreshing enthusiasm to unclog the administrative arteries of the HSE, but the issues to be resolved will require some very clear and decisive leadership on her part to alter course sufficiently to benefit occupational health and safety in the quarrying and quarry products industry while, at the same time, satisfying the remit of HSE’s political masters.

The QPA values highly its role of constructive engagement with its regulators and others and therefore urges the HSE, in particular, to remove all obstacles that act against the industry tide of continuous improvement.

We, the industry, are determined to succeed but we need the whole of the HSE to be pulling in the same direction! In theory, at least, the newly unified HSE is well placed to tackle and resolve these issues, but, as ever, only time will tell!

Martin: 020 7963 8000

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