Those of you who follow this website will know that the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), the statutory body responsible for workplace safety, has not brought a single prosecution for breach of Covid Regulations to court. We know that the HSE has been emasculated by austerity and has not been functional for years but it is still “fishy” that, in the middle of a pandemic, it has brought zero prosecutions against the bosses for failing to provide Covid secure working environments. We have done some research and we can now reveal the reasons for its toothlessness.
Much of the work of the HSE has been outsourced. A call-centre company called Civica has been phoning employers to find out about cleaning, social distancing, ventilation and isolation for symptomatic staff. This has been a tick box exercise and unreliable because bosses do tell lies. Employers who do not answer the phone are visited and spot checked by Marston Holdings, a debt collection firm, which has been paid £7 million to do in-person visits. Again, these in-person, spot checks are superficial, tick box exercises with the emphasis on the quantity of checks rather than the quality. Prospect, the union representing HSE Inspectors, says that outsourced inspections are of poor quality and done “on the cheap”. Covid inspections are public relations exercises. Lots of spot checks give the impression that the HSE is doing its job and that workplaces are safe. Leaks from HSE indicate that “The output from the project, especially the number of completed spot checks, reaches the Cabinet Office and has been reported in several of the 5pm Covid-19 news conferences”. The HSE says that outsourced work is verified but does not explain how. The whole thing stinks. People’s lives are being risked, dodgy employers are getting away health and safety breaches and Johnson can tell more lies about the work of the HSE.
The HSE is dysfunctional. There has been a 25% increase in workplace fatalities, not including deaths from Covid among frontline staff, and this at a time when many workers are working from home or furloughed. The UK Hazards Campaign Chair Janet Newsham has condemned the use of debt collectors to carry out onsite inspections “without adequate training, skills or knowledge to do the job”. Of course, this is happening when Covid restrictions are being lifted and people return to work.
The message for the working class is don’t trust the government to protect you at work. Only workers can ensure the safety of their workplaces through solidarity and collective action.