The Failure of the HSE

There is little to be said about the Health & Safety Executive on the subject of investigating Pesticide Incidents in Agriculture save that their involvement to date has been a shameful example of incompetence and failure.

Farms are extremely dangerous places with the deadly combination of complex machinery and dangerous chemicals used by workers who of necessity work long hours, often alone, and often in remote areas.
When the Health and Safety Commission was first proposed by the Conservative Government the farming industry was excluded from the "Health & Safety at Work Acts".
The Labour Government attempted to bring Agricultural safety under the control of the Commission and after considerable pressure was put on the Government of the day by opposition MPs and the then powerful and influential voice of the National Farmers Union Agriculture was specifically exempted from the HSE's obligatory role in incident investigation by Act of Parliament .
This was confirmed by the Parliamentary Ombudsman in the mid 1990s when the HSE had failed to properly investigate a case of poisoning which left an Agricultural worker permanently disabled.

The Ombudsman declared that "the extent to which HSE investigates or takes enforcement action after investigation is a discretionary matter", which in effect means that if they do not wish to investigate any incident then they have no obligation in law to do so.

In many cases even to this day an HSE "investigation" may simply take the form of a telephone conversation with the farmer himself.
Paperwork is rarely checked and all is accepted at face value.

Perhaps this is why influential Farmers have been able to escape prosecution for what are obvious offences in Health and Safety Law?
The farmer involved in the incident referred to above had enjoyed the protection of the HSE in respect to several other matters including another poisoning case, and physical harm caused to at least three other individuals through bad safety practices.
The hospitals reported some of the incidents to the HSE but the employer did not. It is an offence to fail to report dangerous occurrences to the HSE but yet again the employer escaped prosecution.

Some of these cases were raised in the House of Lords but the HSE simply declared that the victims were little more than a nuisance to them and that they could no longer afford to respond to their letters.

Given that history another incident proved that the HSE have no intention of protecting the general public.

The residents of a small village became increasingly concerned about the rising number of cases of ill health which followed crop spraying operations.
One man was sprayed whilst in his garden and ended up in hospital but the two dogs he had called to through his fence also became ill and one died.
The HSE "investigated" the farm and found nothing wrong but the publicity resulted in a public meeting held in the village and attended by the HSE.

At that meeting the HSE publicly stated that they had investigated the farm thoroughly and that there was no problem.

The farmer appeared on the television and claimed that if there was any problem then his staff would be ill. At least one had already approached his doctor who in turn had sought advice on the best treatments to offer his patient who he suspected as having been poisoned by OPs.
The Farmer and the National Farmer's Union spokesman both claimed on television that the pesticides used were safe and properly tested.

After the meeting the villagers were angry but the farmer decided to dismiss his sick pesticide sprayer operator. The true use of chemicals on the farm was reported to the supermarkets to whom the farmer directly supplied his produce.

The HSE was forced to investigate on the grounds of public safety.
The farmer was found guilty at the trial for 11 breaches of pesticide safety regulations including the use of illegal pesticides, ignoring the safe post-treatment/pre-harvest intervals so that contaminated food was sold direct to the public only days after spraying, and the keeping of false pesticide use records.

No charges were brought in respect to the adverse health effects caused by the pesticides and indeed the Court heard that no harm to human health had been caused.

There is no way of knowing the long term effects caused to the public by the spraying operations or by eating the contaminated crops but the villagers have their own views.
A child who regularly ate food from the farm died from leukaemia whilst a former packer at the farm recently died from lung cancer at a relatively young age.

The HSE wrote to his widow suggesting that there was no link to his work since cancers caused by chemicals normally take some decades to develop.
Given that cancers induced in test animals take far less time than that it would seem that this is simply another ploy by the HSE to protect the farmer.

After the case it was discovered that pesticide had been buried by a water course supplying a bottle water plant. this too is contrary to the regulations issued by the Government on the disposal of unwanted pesticides.

Once again the farmer has so far escaped prosecution both by the HSE and by the misnamed "Environmental Protection Agency".

We need not look far for an explanation for this obvious inaction.

The farmer was senior in the National Farmer's Union but he was also an adviser to the Government!
There are also reported "Masonic links" which had been noted by observers......
Despite protests the farmer still holds official community posts and it is reported that the sale of the business included finance to cover any fines which may have been imposed and leave a comfortable lump sum too!.

Meanwhile the Environmental Protection Agency are reported to be spending a great deal of money in order to ensure that the water supply has not been dangerously contaminated by the buried pesticides.

Under normal circumstances it would be logical to think that the HSE would have learned much from these "mistakes" but that is not the case.

The "discretionary" powers mean that even the most serious of incidents can escape thorough investigation.
Recently a farmer was the victim of a commonly used chemical for which the HSE have had knowledge of adverse reactions for at least the last decade.
The HSE is responsible for advising the public on the health hazards and on the best approach towards testing and diagnosis.
Despite this the farmer approached the HSE for advice and had the telephone slammed down on him in mid-conversation.
Poisoned individuals who know what blood tests and urine tests should be done and who have approached the HSE have encountered a refusal to cooperate and doctors who have been handed samples by the victims themselves have reported that they have been ignored and that the vital samples have been thrown away.

It is clear that even though the HSE themselves advise other Government departments about the symptoms of poisoning and the safe levels of exposure when it comes to actual investigations they fail dismally.

It is also clear that they are not fearful of producing false statements when the need arises and their first priority appears to be to themselves.
Whilst claiming that they are unable to investigate through lack of funds they seem to be able to find the finance for expensive advertising for their own publications and other perhaps less important safety issues.

Worryingly the Health & Safety Executive was the organisation chosen by Government to oversee the safety of the Genetically Modified Crop trials in the UK. We should perhaps not be surprised at the confusion which now exists over the "barrier" distances supposedly introduced as a means to protect the environment or that those distances have now been proven to be grossly inadequate.

Strange silence is now found over the type of protective clothing which the HSE is prepared to recommend as efficient protection for those who must handle the dangerous OP compounds. At one time the HSE declared that the users of the chemicals were to blame for their own ill health because they failed to protect themselves. Then they refused to comment on claims that the chemicals can easily penetrate all available protective clothing. Now they are prepared to risk the lives of those who handle such chemicals by allowing them back on the market in newly designed containers which are said to "reduce" exposure to the concentrate. Such containers do not protect the user from the chemical when it leaves the container and releases its deadly vapours.

However the HSE are prepared to risk human life.
Reports suggest that trials run by the HSE intending to test the efficiency of protective equipment worn by Orchard sprayers had a somewhat disastrous outcome. The trial was apparently run by a then member of the Pesticide Incidents Appraisal Panel and involved the use of varying levels of protective clothing.
How could it be that a member of that Panel was responsible for what is essentially a "controlled" pesticide exposure incident?
Reports suggest that one of the participants in the trial later died.

Despite claims by all Government agencies involved with pesticide safety that they rely upon "sound science" and openness it is clear that the HSE is more than willing to ignore any scientific facts which indicate dangers to human health and they are quite prepared to censor reports and the declared opinions of the "experts" to whom they turn - despite the Data Protection Acts and the "Rights" of the poisoned individual.

Sadly, unless the HSE do investigate, the incidents involving pesticides are not reported officially to the manufacturers. This results in continuing problems and without that vital feedback the manufacturers may continue to produce and advertise chemicals which may present great risk to the users and the public.

All investigated incidents should be reported to the Pesticide Incidents Appraisal Panel who are supposedly responsible for confirming poisoning.

Sadly the poisoned victim will discover that the HSE have that angle covered too as it is clear that they have members from their own organisation in key positions on the panel.
In this way their efforts to hide the real cost in human misery resulting from pesticide incidents which they have failed to investigate are all the more likely to succeed.

Since this item appeared on the web it has been discovered that in at least one case some 90 HSE staff actively worked against the interests of an individual exposed to an illegal cocktail of organophosphorus pesticides.
These individuals acted in this way despite never having seen or taken statements from the victim of the criminal act. In fact the first occasion on which any HSE member of staff saw the sufferer was at a meeting in his home which was planned to "draw a line" under the HSE's involvement with the case.
Between the time of the incident and that meeting HSE staff had acted not only against the victim in respect to the incident but also to deny the chance of a proper diagnosis from the National Health Service.
The grounds for this action were that the sufferer could not have been poisoned because there had been no incident during which he could have been exposed to organophosphates.
This was entirely false and they had never properly investigated the incident.

The situation was worse even than that however because in released papers it is clear that HSE also attempted to prevent a legal action reaching the court by giving false information to all concerned and had even criticised two of the victims at the highest level in the House of Lords.
An indication of the attitude of the HSE was found in papers released to two of the victims of illegal pesticide use. Two individuals who had severely criticised the HSE's failure to act properly have discovered that the HSE seriously considered taken them to court for what they claimed were libellous comments. However the only crime that these people had committed was to tell the uncomfortable truth.
Both have been proven correct by events and yet HSE wanted to make an example of them and claimed in one case that they had managed to convince the "action groups" that they had the pesticide issue under control and that a successful case against a doubter would silence any other critics waiting in the wings.
In one case the HSE wrote to the Environmental Agency and sent copies of letters that a victim of poisoning had written about concerns over the illegal burying of cyanide near the water supply for a spring water bottling plant. HSE failed to prosecute the farmer for this irresponsible and illegal act and the Environmental Agency simply sank test boreholes to check for contamination of the water supply. HSE suggested that the potential letter writer believed that both he and his wife were suffering from the effects of pesticides but if they needed any help to deal with his letters HSE would only be too pleased to help!

This is how the HSE live up to their motto "Reducing risks - protecting people"

HSE investigation failures result in the complete failure of the post licensing monitoring system

Dated 16/9/2000    Updated 1/8/2001

Go to top

  Return to Front Page;   Return to Contents file