Regulating Scotland

Full report

Executive summary




News release

Embargoed until Monday 24th September 2012 06.00am.

Health at risk as Scotland’s official safety
and environmental watchdogs are neutered

The effective enforcement of environmental and workplace health standards in Scotland is being undermined by cost-cutting measures packaged as recession-busting cost-benefit calculations, a new independent report has concluded.

Regulating Scotland, a Stirling University analysis of environmental and workplace health and safety enforcement trends, warns that ideology rather than evidence is behind cuts in enforcement agencies and a dramatic decrease in official inspections and enforcement.

The report warns that Scotland has work fatality and sickness rates higher than the UK overall and needs an effective regulatory regime to reduce this toll. However, just one per cent of the 2,500 fatal and major injuries in the country each year result in Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecutions. Inspections by both HSE and its environmental counterpart, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), have plummeted as funding and staffing cuts at the ‘cash strapped’ agencies bite.

Workplace health and safety inspections are now so infrequent it is unlikely most workers will ever encounter an inspector in a working lifetime. SEPA has no top-tier official with human health specifically listed as a function in their publicly available organisational structure. HSE has just only one part-time medic to cover Scotland’s 2.5m workers.

Regulating Scotland is critical of ‘better regulation’ policies, which it says have pulled the teeth of the watchdogs charged with protecting workers, communities and the environment. It says the ‘burdens on business’ case used to justify the hands-off deregulatory approach is based on ‘skewed’ cost-benefit calculations that fail to factor in the much greater financial benefits of proper enforcement of regulations. Responsible businesses stand to gain from regulations that target the rogues, the report says, adding that not only do properly enforced workplace and environmental rules protect lives, the financial benefits are typically several times the costs.

Report author Professor Andrew Watterson said: “Scotland is uniquely placed to maintain and extend effective regulation for public health in the occupational and environmental health fields where the human costs of hazardous work and polluted environments can be considerable. Failure to act now to improve poor regulation and enforcement elevates a spurious business costs argument above a real and substantial cost to human health, society and the public purse. This is a major issue affecting health inequalities and environmental justice.”

Co-author Professor Rory O’Neill said: “There is an unquestionable economic as well as a health case for retaining and improving regulations and their enforcement. We challenge the view that regulation inhibits job creation, innovation and economic growth – the evidence, if anything, suggests the opposite to be true. Only dirty and dangerous businesses have anything to fear from the enforcement of protective safety and environmental regulation. Business, workers, communities and the public purse can all garner substantial benefits from laws that protect the responsible from the rogues”.

Regulating Scotland warns that a lack of official oversight of safety and environmental standards could lead to a process of ‘regulatory capture’, where largely absent and resource-starved enforcing agencies are reliant on self-regulation by companies, trusted to monitor and report on their own performance.  “It is the process of statutory neglect implicated at Deepwater Horizon and in other disasters. The Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion cost BP its reputation, a substantial chunk of its share price and billions of dollars in compensation and other costs,” said Rory O’Neill. “Between the catastrophes, the slow disaster of more routine environmental and workplace harm continues unabated and largely unpoliced, at a massive cost to the public purse and the health of the nation.”

The report calls for Scotland to reinstate resources for official health and safety and environmental enforcement activities, and to abandon deregulation. It suggests the Scottish Government should also consider creating its own workplace safety regulator, the Scottish Occupational Health and Safety Agency.

Regulating Scotland notes a failure to regulate comes at a price

Notes to editors

Regulating Scotland: What works and what does not in occupational and environmental health and what the future may hold, Andrew Watterson and Rory O’Neill. Research Report from the Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, Centre for Public Health and Population Health Research, Stirling University, September 2012.

Further information:
Professor Andrew Watterson
telephone: 01786-466283
mobile: 07563-195904