More than 2 million British people suffer some form of occupational ill health, with estimates of between 12,000-18,000 deaths a year as a result of exposure to workplace hazards. Yet Prospect's research shows for the first time that there are now only three occupational physicians left in HSE and 18 occupational health inspectors, down from 60 of each in the early 1990s.
Prospect Head of Research Sue Ferns, who spoke in support of today's health and safety motion at TUC, said: "These cuts are occurring just as the Government proposes to emasculate employers' obligation to report occupational health absences from diseases such as mesothelioma, skin cancer, carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive strain injury under RIDDOR.*
"That would remove the bulk of the intelligence guiding the work of hygiene and occupational health inspectors, and deprive lay health and safety representatives of information essential for them to monitor workplace health."
According to data obtained by Prospect as TUC opened in Brighton today:
- HSE's Corporate Medical Unit is so depleted that it can no longer provide basic cover on occupational health advice and prevention or provide a leadership role to the OH community.
- HSE now has only five specialist radiation inspectors, falling to four later this year. An estimated 120,000 employers work with ionising radiations in the UK - one radiation inspector for every 30,000 employers.
- HSE has withdrawn from proactive radiation inspection to save costs, even though there are 280 deaths a year from occupational exposure to radon and widespread non-compliance with the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999.
Ferns told delegates later today that the HSE has already been subject to a 25% spending cut, and required to reduce proactive inspections for high-hazard sectors by a third. Staffing figures at HSE have dropped from 3,702 in April 2010 to 2,889 in June 2012.
There have been four reviews of health and safety regulation in the last seven years flagged up Löfstedt's finding that the HSE provides a vital service, that health and safety law is fit for purpose and that the Government accepted his findings in full.
"Yet the Prime Minister, untroubled by the facts, launched a public attack pledging to tackle, in his words, a 'health and safety monster'. No wonder that Professor Löfstedt subsequently expressed concern that his report could be 'misused' for political purposes."
Ferns will also draw attention to 40 stories from the frontline by Prospect HSE branch members that counter the government's damaging spin.
The stories were gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Robens report, which laid the foundations for the Health and Safety at Work Act and the creation of the HSE.
You can read or download them at www.prospect.org.uk/40at40 and they have been tweeted over the last 40 days with the hashtag #40at40.
Prospect represents more than 1,600 inspectors and specialist staff in HSE and the Office for Nuclear Regulation.
* Note: RIDDOR = Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995. Prospect expects that 90% of current occupational health inspections will cease - unless the exposure relates to a biological agent at the workplace.