• 14 January 2014

Triennial review of HSE raises concerns over FFI scheme

An independent review of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which was published last week has criticised the HSE’s Fee for Intervention (FFI) inspection charging regime.

In April 2013, Martin Temple, Chairman of the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF), was commissioned to conduct the first Triennial Review of the HSE for the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP).

It is Government policy that all non-departmental public bodies undergo a practical review at least once every three years and this is the first Triennial Review of the HSE.

In the report, Martin Temple labelled FFI as a “dangerous model” which has potentially undermined the integrity of the HSE. In addition, Mr Temple calls for further consultation on continued operation of FFI.

Mr Temple stated:

“While my remit for this review was primarily to consider the continuing need for HSE’s function, the wealth of comments I received from stakeholders regarding the Fee for Intervention regime has compelled me to address the issue. 

“I am very concerned at the strength of feeling from stakeholders that FFI has damaged the HSE’s reputation for acting impartially and independently, and therefore its integrity as a regulator.”

FFI has now been in place since October 2012 and under the process, those who break health and safety laws are liable for recovery of HSE’s related costs, including inspection, investigation and taking enforcement action.

The HSE has the right to charge £124 for each hour of work where an Inspector highlights a material breach, which it describes as when there “is or has been a contravention of health and safety law that requires them to issue notice in writing of that opinion to the duty holder”. In total, the HSE invoiced more than £5.5m in the first year of the fee For Intervention scheme.

Mr Temple went onto say:

“I recommend that, unless the link between ‘fines’ and funding can be removed or the benefits can be shown to outweigh the detrimental effects, and it is not possible to minimise those effects, FFI should be phased out.

“I recommend that, as an urgent action, there should be at least one independent person involved at the first formal stage in FFI appeals for HSE to ensure that the appeal process is independent and impartial, and is seen to be so.”

The Triennial Review was actually not intended to focus on the FFI scheme. As noted, the remit of the review was primarily to consider the continuing need for HSE’s functions and Mr Temple concluded that, fundamentally, the functions of the HSE continued to be necessary and that an arms-length public sector body was “the most efficient and effective way to deliver those functions”.

In response to the report, Alex Botha, Chief Executive of the British Safety Council, said:

“The British Safety Council believes that in order for Great Britain to continue to be effective in preventing workplace injuries and work-related ill-health we need a properly resourced, expert and independent regulator. 

“We welcome the Government’s acknowledgement of the continuing need for HSE to help to achieve that goal. That view was overwhelmingly supported by our more than 6,000 corporate members.”

He continued:

“We note that Temple highlighted concerns over the recently introduced cost recovery scheme, ‘Fee for Intervention’ (FFI). Many of these concerns reflect the views of our members we submitted to the review so we welcome the recommendations concerning the planned review of FFI to be expanded to examine these issues.”

Also commenting on the report, Steffan Groch, Head of Regulatory at national business law firm, DWF, said:

“Although DWF continues to advise its clients in relation to ongoing FFI matters, we are seeing a growing divide between HSE inspectors and employers. 

“This is often due to borderline cases and arguments over how much time the inspectors have spent investigating them, which can be potentially damaging for their long-term relationships with employers.”

According to Mr Temple, the HSE is planning to review FFI now.

What are your thoughts on the Fee for Intervention scheme? Do you agree with it? Have you had any experience with it? Would be great to hear opinions of those who have had first-hand experience of FFI, and our latest forum discussion group is all about FFI. Please click the link and have your say on the controversial scheme.