Mark Sinclair's Blog: 17 June 2009 - HSE blind spot
17 June 2009
Mark Sinclair is boss of leasing firm Alphabet
The HSE has recently come in for criticism for not mentioning work-related road safety in its new strategy for the twenty-teens.
On the face of, the complaint was not wholly justified. The strategy document is simply a statement of core principles. But it reflects the deep frustration that many fleet safety professionals feel when it comes to the HSE's treatment of work-related road risk.
The problem is that the HSE seems to have a blind spot when it comes to at-work road deaths and injuries.
It handed its remit for promoting work-related road safety to the Department for Transport five years ago. This was partly on the grounds that the DfT, with 20,000 staff and existing responsibility for general road safety campaigns, could give more focus to fleet safety than the HSE with 'only' 3500 personnel.
You might have thought that at-work road safety, widely believed to involve between 850 and 1000 fatalities a year, would be better off being left with the UK's at-work safety authority, rather than being placed within a huge department tasked with looking after the entire country's transport needs.
In fact, at the time, a task group working for the HSE had just spent three years developing guidelines for managing fleet risk. But the Executive appeared to be determined to distance itself from road safety, so the fleet problem was 'outsourced' to the DfT.
Not that the DfT has done a bad job. It quickly put together a dedicated Driving for Work website and tool kit aimed at fleet operators. And behind the scenes, the DfT works in partnership with numerous non-profit organisations such as RoadSafe, FleetSafe and Driving for Better Business and with many fleet suppliers.
Today, the quality and scope of safety materials and services available to fleets leaves little to be desired. Everything that a small business needs to comply with best practice and the law is freely available online from the DfT and its affiliates. Larger fleets are supported by a flourishing risk management sector.
But in the meantime, the HSE itself has come under increasing pressure to improve its performance. The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee has been particularly scathing about the Executive's diminishing willingness to inspect and prosecute bad employers.
Even so, its new strategy puts as much emphasis on trying to quash myths about conker tournaments and wearing flip flops to work as it does on the Executive's more serious role of law enforcement. Of course, it was the HSE itself which happily presided over the emergence of these myths over the past 10 years - during which time several thousand at-work road deaths and tens of thousands of injuries have resulted in barely a handful of prosecutions.
The HSE is now talking about regulating safety consultants and practitioners - having only just come to the realisation that it has done very little to set standards for the industry that has grown up to fill the vacuum its own lack of focus has created. Again, it is also considering imposing statutory health and safety duties on directors - surely another example of burdening the many to make up for the HSE's lack of determination to deal with the few.
In its drive to keep work-related road safety at arm's length, the Executive, as I've written in the past, not only deliberately leaves fatalities and injuries from at-work road crashes out of the official statistics but it doesn't even require employers to report incidents within RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences). So, if you're accidentally exposed to asbestos at work it must be reported but if you're hurt in a crash while making a delivery it's all part of the day's work to the Executive.
No wonder fleet safety professionals and Commons committee members are frustrated.