One of the recent global advances to enhance the delivery of a high
level of health, hygiene and safety at work is the increasing Internet
access to information regarding legislation, guidance notes and relevant
statistical information. This started mainly in North America, but has
extended elsewhere with important contributions from countries such as
Australia, and within Europe from the Health
(HSE) in Great Britain and other bodies through their expanding World Wide
Web (WWW) sites. The HSE has announced
that H+S legislation will be going into an online database, as part of
a contract with a publisher.
The aim of this page is to make the case that Governmental Information
on Health and Safety should be readily and comprehensively available online,
and should be free.
Parliament has enacted legislation to protect the health of workers;
the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive (both
set up by Act of Parliament) publish documents such as regulations, Approved
Codes of Practice and Guidance Notes to fulfil this aim. The protection
and promotion of the Health of Workers is the aim - not the generation
of income for the exchequer.
In the UK much of the Health and Safety legislation, Approved Codes
of Practice (ACoPs), relevant research reports and 'statistics' are only
available for purchase in paper copy. This is not generally a problem for
the well resourced larger employers, nor for academic institutions and
many other organisations. However for small and medium enterprises,
or for individual employees and their safety representatives
there may be inequitable access to these important sources of information,
because of the cost and process of buying hard copy from 'HSE Books'. (By
way of contrast in North America a much larger quantity of literature e.g.
from NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) and OSHA
(Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is available free on line.
The HSE should place all Health & Safety legislation, guidance notes,
ACoPs, HSE commissioned research reports, 'statistics' from statutory or
voluntary reporting schemes etc on the Internet without further delay and
freely available to all.
But surely, one could argue that this costs money and the Government
needs to recover its costs. The Exchequer has many and varied means of
swelling its coffers. The holding to ransom of information that could save
lives and protect and promote health should not be one of them. Also
the economics of the Internet when compared to the publication of
books is radically different. The marginal cost of providing a free copy
of a piece of legislation or aguidance note on line is minimal and negligible
when compared to the cost of a 'hard copy' and its postage.
When the Health and Safety etc at Work Act became law in 1974, many
hoped (and to some extent Hansard reflects this) that workers would become
informed empowered and motivated and behave like an army of inspectors
aware of health and safety issues. This has not happened. Yet if all employees
had free access to the information which parliament intended them to have
- this will be an important avenue to educate, inform and empower employees
as well as employers.
On a national and strategic scale, the dissemination of information
on line is probably much more cost effective than the current situation.
See comment on the Occupational Health Strategy
If an employer expected an employee to pay for his own protective gloves
or mask this would (rightly) be deemed illegal by HSE. So why should the
employee have to pay to click and download the Approved Code of Practice
or Guideline which governs the wearing of that protective equipment or
the use of other relevant control methods?
The way forward:
Will the Government - and its executive limb - the HSE take this bold
step to make British Health and Safey legislation and allied information
widely and comprehensively available on-line and for free?
I have no doubt that the Health and Safety Executive will move further
in this direction - the current pace is far too slow. I hope that it will
have the vision to make this available without charge. If it does not
many small workplaces and most workers will find this information as inaccessible
to them as it is at present.
At a meeting recently in 1999, in response to one of the other speakers,
a member of the audience made a
suggestion which I hope will not need to be resorted to: Perhaps someone
with time on their hands and possibly even outside British jurisdiction
might force the change through a "Berlin Wall" scenario. This would
entail copying extant Health and Safety Executive material and making
this freely available on a WWW server. I would hope that such a breach
of copyright would not be engaged in, although if it happens I very much
doubt that the British government would seek to prosecute as this would
be highly embarrassing. More importantly I hope that the Health and
Safety Executive will further hasten the pace of change and modernisation,
to rapidly make all relevant Health and Safety information freely available.
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