APPG on Working at Height

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Working at Height is chaired by Alison Thewliss MP for Glasgow Central.

The APPG will be meeting in the near future and again later in the year.

Westminster Hall debate - Thursday 2nd May, 2019

"Working at height is not the sole preserve of those we might automatically think of, namely people in the construction sector.

We must also consider the work of window cleaners, sole traders, small businesses, people in the oil and gas sector, farmers and agricultural workers, and many other professions besides."
Alison Thewliss MP
Chair, APPG on Working at Height

Staying Alive report:

The APPG presented its inaugural report on how to improve the safety environment for the 10 million people in the UK who work at height.

The report is the result of a 12-month inquiry by the APPG, during which over 60 written responses were received and two oral evidence sessions were held.

The APPG suggests four recommendations:

  1. Introduction of enhanced reporting without an additional burden, through RIDDOR, which at a minimum, records the scale of a fall, the method used and the circumstances of the fall.
  2. The appointment of an independent body that allows confidential, enhanced and digital reporting of all near misses and accidents that do not qualify for RIDDOR reporting. The data collected by this independent body will be shared with government and industry to inform health and safety policy.
  3. The extension of the Working Well Together – Working Well at Height safety campaigns to industries outside of the construction sector.
  4. An equivalent system to Scotland’s Fatal Accident Inquiry process to be extended to the rest of the UK
The APPG suggests two areas for further consultation:

  1. The creation of a digital technology strategy, to include a new tax relief for small, micro and sole traders, to enable them to invest in new technology
  2. A major review of work at height culture. This should include an investigation into the suitability of legally binding financial penalties in health and safety, funds which could be used towards raising awareness and training, particularly in hard to reach sectors.

Westminster Hall debate on preventing serious injury and fatalities while working at height

On 2 May 2019 in the House of Commons, Alison Thewliss (SNP, Glasgow Central) held a debate on preventing serious injury and fatalities while working at height. As many of our members will know, Alison Thewliss acts as Chair for the APPG on Working at Height and was closely involved in the production of the APPG’s report ‘Staying Alive: Preventing Serious Injury and Fatalities while Working at Height’ which was published earlier this year.

Opening the debate, Alison paid tribute to those who had contributed to the APPG on Working at Height inquiry and report. She said that the fantastic response to the inquiry from the industry and general public had highlighted the importance of the issue and the desire to see improvements across all sectors involved in working at height. Alison added that although the UK has a good record, with low levels of accidents and injuries at work, 35 people died last year due to a fall from height. She continued that the group’s main motivation is to improve the regulatory environment to ensure that there are no fatalities in future.

When requesting action from the Government, Alison said that she would like to see enhanced reporting through RIDDOR and greater sharing of data collected by the NHS on accidents. Additionally, she called for the establishment of an independent reporting body to allow for reporting of near misses and accidents, which could be shared with the Government and industry. An increase in data would help to inform health and safety policy.

Alison noted that there is concern within the industry that safety improvements are hindered by a lack of empirical data and that the recommendations in the report would have little financial burden on the Government but would improve data quality and accuracy overnight. She said that the APPG would also like to see:

  • An extension of the ‘Working Well Together – Working Well at Height’ safety campaign
  • The rollout of the Scottish fatal accident inquiry to all parts of the UK
  • A digital technology strategy which would include a new tax relief to help small, micro and sole traders to invest in new technology
  • Assurances from Government that current safety regulations relating to working at height will not be compromised or lessened due to Britain’s exit from the European Union

Labour MP for Delyn, David Hanson MP was next to speak, also paying tribute to the work of the APPG. He said that we have a responsibility through business, central Government legislation, and the promotion of good practice, to ensure workers are safe at work from injury or death. He endorsed the APPG’s recommendations in their entirety and placed particular importance on the need for enhanced reporting.

Scottish National Party MP for Glasgow South West, Chris Stephens began by saying that working at height culture needs to improve and said that a lack of data prevents us from understanding the causes of falls from height. He said that the APPG’s report was excellent and endorsed its recommendations. Additionally, he spoke about blacklisting reminding that this is an incredibly important considerations for those individuals who have or wish to express health and safety concerns for workers.

The Labour MP for Wirral West and Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Margaret Greenwood was next to speak. She opened her remarks by thanking the APPG for their work on the report and noting that strong health and safety legislation is as important today as it has ever been. The Shadow Secretary noted that falls from height are particularly traffic because they can be prevented through proper enforcement of existing legislation and increased awareness of good practice. She concluded by noting that just one death of a person working at height was one too many. Adding that those who criticise health and safety regulations and cite it as an example of a ‘nanny state’, should reflect on the impact that deaths and injuries at work have on bereaved families and victims.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Guy Opperman responded on behalf of the Government. He opened his remarks by putting on record the Government’s acceptance and acknowledgement of the cross-party work that had contributed to the production of the APPG’s report. He also thanked the Access Industry Forum. The Minister welcomed the debate and said that it was an extremely important issue.

Mr Opperman highlighted that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) informed the Government that it will respond formally to the APPG’s report within 60 working days. It will ensure it covers all of the points raised, in both the report and during the debate. The Minister said that the HSE has indicated that it welcomes the report and the desire for action.

He agreed that one fatality is one too many but added that this should not detract from the fact that successive governments have done good work in this field and that the UK has a much lower rate of workplace fatality and serious injury rate than France or Germany. Despite this, he said that falls from height are still a major cause of serious and fatal injuries.

On the report’s recommendations around enhanced reporting, he said that the Government will listen to the HSE’s view before it makes any changes. He added that the Government feel that it is fundamentally more important to place emphasis on the need to follow existing guidance and good practice. He also further added that the free text box which forms part of RIDDOR, already allows for the recording of additional information.

Touching on the recommendation that an independent body should be established to allow confidential reporting which would include near misses and other non-RIDDOR accidents, Mr Opperman said that the HSE is fundamentally supportive of efforts in the area but will respond in more detail at a later date. He added that the Government believe it is important that near misses are reported first and foremost to the employer as soon as possible, and that it is for the employer to investigate and introduce controls.

He further commented on another of the report’s recommendations, saying that the HSE will explore whether there is an appetite for extending the ‘Working Well Together – Working Well at Height’ campaign beyond the construction sector, saying that the HSE will discuss with Access Industry Forum how it could specifically support the agriculture sector. Mr Opperman also stated that the Ministry of Justice are looking to contribute to the HSE’s response to the APPG report specifically around the rollout of the Scottish fatal accident inquiry to all parts of the UK.

He concluded by noting that the Government will continue to support the work of the HSE and industry in reducing the number of serious injuries and fatalities. He further commented that the Minister responsible for the HSE also looks forward to meeting the APPG and having an opportunity to set out the Government’s position following a response from the HSE.

Responding to the Minister, Alison Thewliss said she was glad that the HSE will provide a comprehensive response to the report. Picking up on enhanced reporting, she urged the Minister to look at the issue and noted that while there is already a free text area within reporting, it does not go far enough to gather the right information.