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HSC plans worker safety advisors for smaller sites

WORKER SAFETY advisers could start appearing on construction sites when new Health & Safety Commission (HSC) proposals take effect, it was revealed last Friday.

The advisors (WSAs) will act as part-time co-ordinators of health and safety initiatives on individual sites The HSC's Collective Declaration on Worker Involvement document, launched last week, is the first official recognition of the importance the HSC attaches to the WSA concept.

Introducing WSAs is seen as the best way to improve safety in situations where trade unions are not formally recognised.

This is usually in small to medium sized organisations.

A pilot scheme involving 88 firms throughout the UK was run last year. It is claimed to have shown that joint worker/ manager control of health and safety strategy is very effective.

The idea is that workers and managers co-operate on risk assessments and drafting policy.

Later this month the HSC will launch the WSA Challenge.

Under this partnerships between employers and workers or local chambers of commerce can bid for a share of £3M government funding for new WSA schemes.

Worker involvement in health and safety campaigns is a central plank of the HSC's new strategy for workplace health and safety.

So what difference does it make?

Plans to streamline the work of Health & Safety Executive inspectors and their local authority counterparts should start to take shape this summer. But will they lead to a tougher inspection regime? Dave Parker reports.

BETTER USE of available resources and greater involvement of stakeholders are the main objectives of the Health & Safety Commission's new workplace health and safety strategy launched last week. A series of plans and proposals will be the first fruits of the strategy this spring.

But by July the foundation stone of the whole strategy should be in place. This is expected to create a high level agreement between the HSE and local authorities. It is hoped it will lead to a more efficient deployment of inspectors to enforce the current requirements of the Health & Safety at Work Act (HSW).

It is thought that the local authorities have around 1,000 front line inspectors to the HSE's 1,400. Local authority inspectors currently work mainly in the distribution, retail, office and catering sectors, although large complex sites like the Earl's Court Arena in London can also fall within their remit.

HSE inspectors tend to stick to other areas although some sites fall within the jurisdiction of both. 'The legalistic framework of the regulations meant there were always some grey areas where it was difficult to establish who had jurisdiction, ' says an HSE spokesman. As a result it was possible for some areas to be missed completely, while others were over-inspected.

How far the existing barriers between local authority and HSE territories will come down or whether they will be withdrawn completely is still a matter of intense speculation.

Among health and safety inspectors from both camps there is an acceptance that the current enforcement regime has gone as far as it can. HSE inspectors and their local authority equivalents work separately but in parallel, in territories defined by the HSW's 1998 Enforcing Authority Regulations. These are now seen as positive barriers to progress, and will almost certainly be drastically revised.

' We have agreed that dual enforcement hasn't been using our collective resources most efficiently, ' said Local Authority Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) health & safety policy officer Nick Clack. 'Liaison in the field between the HSE and local authorities needs to be improved, and co-ordinated training for inspectors would be a major step forward.'

Construction will still be high on the hit list for whoever is responsible for enforcement, along with rail and other traditionally high risk sectors.

The HSE and local authorities will, however, eventually agree on a list of 'well-controlled', low risk sectors, such as offices, from which all inspectors will eventually 'have the confidence' to withdraw.

This will, says the HSC, allow more resources to be concentrated on high risk areas such as construction and rail.

Even after July there will be no immediate dramatic change in the way the HSW regulations will be enforced on construction sites. The HSC is playing the long game, acknowledging that a culture shift is needed to make serious inroads into accident statistics, especially in those industries with a traditional macho attitude to personal safety and healthy lifestyles. Expect to see the first joint initiatives promoting preventive measures and greater involvement of all stakeholders later this year.

Tougher inspections are some time off.

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