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Sheila Pantry Associates Ltd


Focus Archive

News from around the World

September 2006

Job cuts at UK safety body

Prospect, the union representing 1,750 inspectors, scientists and other professionals in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has condemned an announcement that the UK Government spending restrictions in the safety body will force it to axe up to 350 posts.

In a notice to staff, HSE chief executive Geoffrey Podger said the move to reduce the total number of staff by between 250 and 350 posts by 2008 and cut programme spend was necessary to remain in budget.

But Prospect fears that this will only be the tip of the iceberg coming on the back of real terms cuts in HSE's budget since 2002, and in the face of likely further cuts given the 5% reduction target identified for its parent body, the Department of Work and Pensions, in the last comprehensive spending review.

Prospect HSE branch chair Steven Kay said: "While we welcome the commitment to try to achieve these losses through natural wastage and voluntary redundancies, any reduction in HSE staff numbers will inevitably impact on the drive to improve safety in UK workplaces. Evidence shows it is inspection backed by enforcement that is the most effective way of ensuring employers comply with their health and safety responsibilities.

"It will result in a drop in the number of prosecutions and inspections undertaken and could see a further restriction of the accident selection criteria used to prompt an investigation as HSE tries to maintain the 60:40 balance it seeks to strike between preventive and reactive work. Less investigations will mean workers that suffer horrendous injuries will not get justice."

HSE programmes also identified as casualties of the cutbacks include measures introduced as part of the executive's strategic shift away from inspection and enforcement in favour of education and preventative advice, announced in 2003.

The announcement coincides with a new report, published in Hazards magazine, that highlights how at the same time HSE is implementing its new strategy to move away from hands-on workplace inspections, figures for fatalities and major injury rates across the UK are rising.

The Hazards report shows that even before this latest blow, the time spent by HSE staff in direct contact with employers has fallen in all of HSE's divisions bar one despite a growth in the number of workplaces. In 2001/02 the average frequency of workplace inspections was once every seven years. Figures for 2006 suggest this has risen to every 13 years.

While HSE's Hazardous Installation Division (HID) bucked the trend, Hazards attributes this to the "HID inspection and investigation surge after the December 2005 Buncefield explosion."

Prospect members in HSE anticipate a corresponding crash in activity over the coming year, as inspectors take related time-off-in-lieu, overtime payments drain budgets further and inspectors are seconded from other divisions to meet the shortfall. The union is calling for government intervention to reduce the financial pressure crippling HSE.

To view the Hazards report visit or contact the editor, Rory O'Neill on 01535 210462.

Reactor Accidents - Institutional Failure in the Nuclear Industry

In the nuclear industry - or in any other industry where an accident can have potentially devastating consequences - when things go wrong it is invariably the operator that gets the blame. But is it really the case that the operators of Chernobyl or Three Mile Island were, at least for a brief moment, simply incompetent?

Reactor Accidents by David Mosey explores in detail the events leading up to seven of the most serious accidents in history of the nuclear industry. In each of the cases analysed it is shown that the root causes of these accidents were not design flaws or the mistakes of individual operators, however much these may have affected the accident sequence.

The root causes were rather deep-seated failings in the institutions involved in the operation of the nuclear plant - failings which allowed the adoption of flawed designs, the provision of inadequate operator support and guidance, and a dangerous overconfidence in the technology.

As Mosey points out in the Introduction to Reactor Accidents: To simply characterise the Three Mile Island accident as a minor mechanical failure which was allowed to escalate into a major accident through serious operator errors is a gross and dangerous distortion of the truth, actively concealing important human errors in nuclear plant design organisations, operating utilities and the regulatory authorities. If we cannot identify these errors in the glare of hindsight, then we have little hope of anticipating them in the future

Institutional failure is the root cause of not only all seven accidents, but countless others from within and outside the nuclear industry. Reactor Accidents is essential reading for anyone who considers safety to be the top priority, whether working in the nuclear industry or any other field where the cost of an accident is too high a price to pay.

Reactor Accidents (2nd edition) by David Mosey (ISBN: 1-903-07745-1) can be ordered securely online for £36 (including shipping) - a saving of 20%!

Contact: Stephen Tarlton, Nuclear Engineering International, Wilmington House, Maidstone Road, Foots Cray, Sidcup, Kent DA14 5HZ, UK | Tel: +44 20 8269 7773 | Fax: +44 20 8269 7804 | email:

The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) publication Control of Work

Understanding why a process is carried out is just as important as knowing what is involves. To encourage this approach to operational safety, the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) has again collaborated with BP to produce this booklet Control of Work in the Process Safety Series.

The book outlines the principles behind the twelve elements of Control of Work focusing on the safe execution of workplace activities and providing a formal and consistent approach to managing risk.

The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE)
Control of Work 2006. 86 pages. GBP22.00
ICHEME, Davis Building, 165-189 Railway terrace, Rugby CV21 3HQ, UK | Tel: +44 (0)1788 578 214 | Fax: +44 (0) 1788 560 833 |

Buncefield Major Incident Investigation Board Publishes Reports and news

In the early hours of Sunday 11th December 2005, a number of explosions occurred at Buncefield Oil Storage Depot, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, UK. At least one of the initial explosions was of massive proportions and there was a large fire, which engulfed a high proportion of the site. Over 40 people were injured; fortunately there were no fatalities. Significant damage occurred to both commercial and residential properties in the vicinity and a large area around the site was evacuated on emergency service advice. The fire burned for several days, destroying most of the site and emitting large clouds of black smoke into the atmosphere.

Lord Newton, the Chairman of the Buncefield Investigation Board said: ... the Board is in a position to identify three main issues arising from it. These are:

Reports, press releases and dramatic pictures can be seen at

25 years of health and safety publishing from Scriptographic Publications Ltd

The 2006 catalogue from Scriptographic Publications Ltd contains a wide range of booklets and posters that will be useful in any workplace. Clear and simple ways to get the health and safety message to the workforce - latest editions includes: Employees' Guide to Manual Handling and What you should know about manual handling.

Contact: Scriptographic Publications, Charwell House, Wilsom Road, Alton, Hampshire GU34 2PP, United Kingdom | Tel: (within UK) 0800 028 5670 | Tel: (outside UK) +44 8701 609 220 | Fax: (within UK) 08701 609 219 | Fax: (outside UK) +44 8701 609 219 | Email: