Legionnaires’ outbreak in Edinburgh – cuts in HSE inspections.

The outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in south west Edinburgh began two weeks ago. One man has died and approaching one hundred people have either been confirmed or suspected of having contracted the disease. The source of the disease has not been identified, but the HSE has issued three improvement notices. Yesterday the 27th June, 14 people were still in intensive care.

Cuts in the Health and Safety Executive have been stated to be putting public health at risk. Last years financial cuts of 35% in its government grant, led to staff numbers, which had already fallen being reduce by a further 400. The HSE’s chief executive proposed the reduction of unannounced workplace inspections by a third.

There is consensus among trade unionists and many Health and Safety specialists and academics that ill health and injury figures are set to soar. Dr Courtney Davis of Sussex University pointed out last year that “ the most robust studies show that inspection plus enforcement are associated with a decline in injury rates of 22% for the following three years…”

For infrequently found conditions such as Legionnaire’s an occupational health specialists would be needed to provide advise to employers however the number of doctors working in the field was recently reduced from 30 across the to now only three.

At present the HSE is unable to explain who is responsible for the Legionnaires’ outbreak. The HSE has not been able to carry out regular checks where it could give information and advise or where necessary prosecute employers in breach of the law. Whole areas of work have virtually been removed from the pared down inspection regime. According to the union Prospect the average gap between general inspections is around 12 to 14 years.

Almost two million people suffer each year from a work-related illness, including more than 20,000 deaths from work-related cancers. The PCS union pointed to a government campaign of “attacks through spending cuts, deregulation and myth-peddling.” The condemned government continues to talk of “cutting red tape”, while people die.

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