HSE-related Parliamentary Questions

Neil HartleyHealth & Safety NewsLeave a Comment

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The current parliamentary session has seen some interesting written questions from MPs and members of the House of Lords related to health and safety. Most, as you would expect, relate to some aspect of Covid-19 response while others shine a welcome light on other issues.

Here’s a selection:

Question from Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (8th June 2020)

“To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what the annual budget of the Health and Safety Executive (a) is in 2020-21 and (b) was in each of the last 10 years.”

Answered by Mims Davies

Historical HSE Expenditure

The answer highlights a 30% drop in HSE budget (annual spending) over the period.

The shortfall between annual spending and income (commercial work, cost recovery, fees and charges) is made up by the government. While we don’t know the context behind the question, it is possibly linked to the additional £14 million of government funding provided to the HSE to deal with additional work arising from Covid-19. That £14 million would equate to 11% of the planned government funding or about 6% of total budget.

While the perception of the general public may be of increased health and safety bureaucracy and burdensome rules and regulations, the HSE is delivering on its mission of “the prevention of death, injury and ill-health to those at work and those affected by work activities” on an ever-tightening budget.

Other major non-coronavirus topics for questions include Grenfell, the recent crane collapse in Bow and asbestos and it’s certainly good to see continued focus on the impact of asbestos on workers and society more generally.

The first two questions on asbestos (highlighted here) are Brexit-related.

Question from Lord Alton of Liverpool (9th March 2020)

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to (1) maintain the total prohibition on the use of asbestos, and (2) rule out any instance of permitting products containing up to one per cent of asbestos as per regulations in the United States, after December 2020.”

Answered by Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park

“At the end of the transition period, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (as amended by the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020) will convert the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation into domestic law. All existing EU REACH restrictions will be carried over to UK REACH at that point, including those relating to asbestos.

“The Government has no plans to revise these restrictions or alter the way asbestos is regulated in the UK.”

Question from Lord Wigley (9th March 2020)

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that any future trade agreements with other countries will require that no imported food or drink may contain any asbestos which could enter into the body of a consumer.”

Answered by Viscount Younger of Leckie

“We remain firmly committed to upholding our high food safety standards outside the EU. The UK’s independent food regulators will continue to ensure that all food imports into the UK comply with those high standards.”

While both of these answers are positive, as we’ve highlighted in the past, it’s not just food (in the CPG sector) that can contain asbestos. Talc has been found to include asbestos fibres (when mined it’s often found near to asbestos) and there are several high profile lawsuits in progress in the US at present (linking cosmetic talc to mesothelioma and lung cancer).

The final grouping of asbestos-related questions was regarding the presence of asbestos in hospitals, such as:

Question from Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (10th March 2020)

“To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what estimate he has made of the cost of making safe asbestos on the Mount Vernon Hospital site; and if he will make a statement.”

Answered by Edward Argar

“Based on a detailed site condition survey undertaken in 2017, the estimated cost of removing all Asbestos Containing Materials at the Mount Vernon Hospital site is almost £12 million.”

Northwick Park Hospital also came under scrutiny. This is a hospital that the CareQuality Commission graded as “requires improvement” in 2017 and where the Quality Report stated that, “there was a long standing issue regarding difficulty in maintaining appropriate room temperatures. This was because air conditioning units cannot be installed due to asbestos at NPH. However there was a plan in place to address this issue…” From the Parliamentary Q&A, it looks as if the asbestos removal remains a backlog liability.

Of course, it’s not just hospitals but [almost 90% of] schools and many other government buildings that contain asbestos. On the one hand it’s good to see continued scrutiny as demonstrated by the Parliamentary questions. On the other hand doctors, nurses and teachers are still contracting asbestos-related diseases from their work and from which many are dying.

Let’s hope the scrutiny leads to timely action.

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