Scotland should establish its own health and safety agency to tackle the “acutely Scottish problem” of high rates of work-related injury and ill health, according to Scottish Labour party plans to devolve more powers to Holyrood.
Under plans released in the run up to the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September the new agency would be answerable to the Scottish government and parliament, but health and safety would remain a reserved matter – meaning only the UK parliament can amend the law.
Scottish Labour’s report from its devolution committee outlines how the health and safety agency would set enforcement priorities, goals and objectives in Scotland while acting within the UK’s legislative framework. It would receive its funding from the Scottish government.
The proposal comes in response to concerns over rates of major and fatal injury that are consistently higher in Scotland than in England and Britain as a whole. A study conducted by HSE in 2000 put this down to higher rates of employment in high-risk sectors such as construction.
The combined rate of fatal and major injuries in Scotland was 83.4 per 100,000 workers in 2012/13, compared with a rate of 77.5 in England.
“It is a situation which rightly causes deep concern to trade unions and the workers they represent,” the report, Powers for a Purpose, states. “It is viewed as an acutely Scottish problem and it is therefore argued that we require a Scottish solution by extending health and safety powers to the Scottish parliament.”
“This body would still be required to operate within the reserved health and safety framework and regulations, but it would be for the body – reporting to the Scottish government, scrutinised by the Scottish parliament and accessing funding provided by that parliament – to set and achieve the health and safety objectives of most relevance and importance to Scotland.”
However, the move goes against past advice from HSE. The regulator told the 2009 Calman Commission on Scottish devolution that health and safety should continue to be a reserved matter overseen by the UK parliament. “The Health and Safety Executive itself, in oral evidence to the commission, argued that devolving health and safety would be a retrograde step which could lead to a lack of consistency of approach within Great Britain as well as unnecessary duplication of function and waste of resources.”
The Scottish National Party has also said it will create a new health and safety body if, in the events of a positive vote for independence in September, it wins the subsequent national elections.
The report, published after two years’ of discussions about Labour’s response to the SNP’s independence campaign, includes further proposals that will allow Holyrood to vary tax rates; have more control over social security spending; and administer its own elections.
HSE has over 270 members of staff across Scotland, including the vast majority of its staff working on offshore safety in Aberdeen.
The Scottish Labour party rejected full devolution of health and safety to Holyrood after examining the Northern Irish model, which has its own safety regulator but “relies heavily on the expertise and support of HSE” in a country with a very different risk profile to Scotland.
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