From the current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine, please buy a copy when you see a seller.
Britain’s safety watchdog has denied that its new head has been appointed to exploit commercial opportunities rather than improve workplace health and safety.
Hundreds of people are killed at work annually, thousands are injured and hundreds of thousands suffer from a work- related illness that each year leads to 13,000 early deaths.
Part of the Department for Work and Pensions, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently celebrated its fortieth birthday and is responsible for regulating and enforcing workplace health, safety and welfare.
Chartered engineer Richard Judge will take over as HSE chief executive in November. He is currently head of the Insolvency Agency, part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. This followed a five-year period in charge at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries
and Aquaculture Science, which provides research, consultancy and training for customers worldwide and is part of another government department, DEFRA. Judge has expanded both organisations’ aim of helping government into new commercial streams.
The HSE, which under the current government has lost staff and its rights to inspect a number of workplace sectors, struggled to appoint a new head and its initial attempt last year was abandoned. When a new job advert was issued it contained no reference to improving workplace health and safety but included three mentions that the postholder would be required to make the HSE more commercial.
Hazards, the magazine for trade union safety representatives, argues that Judge has been “handpicked for this commercial task as he has no substantive experience in a regulatory role... but does have experience of cherry picking and selling off profitable bits of businesses”.
Steve Murphy, general secretary of the building workers union UCATT, said: “While Mr Judge cannot be blamed for the failure of the government to properly fund the HSE I hope he concentrates on its core functions of protecting workers and not on selling its services.”
However, the HSE defended its appointment. A spokesperson said: “Richard Judge brings a wide range of relevant skills and experience in senior leadership roles in both the public and private sector, including regulatory functions, operational delivery and commercialisation.
“We are seeking to develop commercial opportunities where they contribute to improved management and control of risk, but we have been clear that our dedication to promoting effective and proportionate risk management and enforcing the law will not be changing.”