Comments on the Consultation proposal that the PSD joins with HSE

8th January 2008

Sarah Dobson,
Area 2E
3-8 Whitehall Place

Dear Ms Dobson,

I write as an individual who has for the last 16 years being trying to assist the Health and Safety Executive and the Pesticide Safety Directorate to understand the true results of their failure to properly address the issues of chemical safety in field conditions.
I do not represent any group and nor has any group had influence over the comments I make.

When I first learnt of this consultation my immediate reaction was that this merger was a good idea because it would put the two organisations that have failed to protect our health under one umbrella organisation and make it easier to isolate those who had failed in their duty to protect us.
However having given more thought to the realities of the situation and the realisation that the Health and Safety Executive’s Excuse for their failure to properly investigate chemical incidents has been that they are already over-stretched I think it would be wise to look at the overall picture before joining operations.
In addition the chemical safety part of the HSE’s work is but a fraction of their responsibilities and they are not really sufficiently well informed about the issues to be able to give it proper consideration.
For example many years ago the farming press printed a letter in which I pointed out the government’s published information on the Industrial Disease recognised as being caused by organophosphorus pesticides. Amazingly when I obtained copies of the internal comments senior HSE staff had no idea what the information referred to and confused it with another paper known as Medical Series 17 and yet the Industrial Disease paper referred doctors to the HSE for advice and information.
Further evidence of the ignorance of some HSE staff on pesticide matters came when at a meeting they were asked about the risks of the organophosphate insecticides added as admixture to food grains.
To the astonishment of those present the HSE denied that the chemicals used were organophosphates and yet for decades HSE.and MAFF, alternately controlled the approval for one of the products, now banned. Perhaps they could learn from the Pesticide Safety Executive but this is doubtful since I have had similar false information from their staff, one of which proclaimed boastfully that she wrote “for Defra in its entirety” when I would have thought that only the Minister of State had such authority.

Perhaps the best way forward would be to move some of the HSE inspectors from the HSE into the PSD as specialists in pesticide and chemical safety in the workplace and give them proper training independent of the chemical industry and those linked to them so that they really do understand the issues before them and know how important it is to be thorough, accurate, and honest in their incident reports. In this way the PSD would have immediate knowledge and early warning of any chemical that might be causing adverse effects on health or the environment.
At the current time few have any confidence in the system as for decades we have been told that our regulatory process is the best in the world, and that the chemicals we use are safe, only to see increasing numbers of them being withdrawn from the market and banned from use by the European Union because they cannot be shown to be safe.
Something is obviously very seriously wrong and yet those involved do not seem to see any problem.
The Environment Agency already works closely with the HSE, which has in the past offered to help the Agency deal with concerns over the failure to prosecute for the illegal disposal of pesticides.
Sadly once again this alliance was not in the best interests of the environment, or human health, and nor did it comply with the proclaimed intent to protect us or to uphold the laws of this country.

Question 1. Bearing in mind the different regulatory regimes which apply, do you consider the proposition has the potential to deliver more coherent and effective approval and regulatory processes for the pesticides, biocides, detergents and chemicals industries than current arrangements? Please give your reasons.

It may well be a good idea to bring these two regulatory bodies closer together. I recall reporting a serious error in the label instructions for one product, which was corrected, but the responsibility changed from MAFF to HSE and the error miraculously re-appeared. The product could be used both in agriculture and in other premises and this probably resulted in lack of communication between the two bodies.
Sadly there is also the opportunity for the obvious failure to ensure accuracy to undermine the credibility of both organisations even further, should the wrong individuals be given controlling positions.

Question 2. Do you consider that HSE’s low risk approach to implementation sufficiently mitigates the risk of loss of business continuity, focus and expertise? If not, please give your reasons.

It would be wrong and dangerous to assume that the HSE approach to implementing regulations is well regarded. Several investigating bodies have criticized the HSE for failures in this are of its work, even when several people have been injured or even killed by bad practice involving chemicals.
These issues have been well publicised and the HSE recently wrote that they would refuse to remove their own invented false data from their files unless ordered to do so by a judge. This means that they are happy to hold false data on their files if it means that they do not have to admit to their failures – hardly a high point in the history of the HSE. Question 3.Do you consider that the following measures:
• retaining strategic pesticides policy in Defra;
• the proposed governance structure;
• maintaining existing working relationships with the FSA and EA; and
• HSE’s commitment to develop environmental capability; will sufficiently protect the environmental and consumer focus of PSD’s work?
If not, please give your reasons

Had the PSD and HSE performed their duties as claimed we would not now be in the position where the EU has withdrawn so many chemicals that were approved by these bodies as being safe.
That in itself is evidence that the standards accepted by the HSE and PSD are far too lax and that they favour the chemical industry to the disadvantage of the health of farmers, consumers and the environment. Furthermore those failures have also influenced the thinking at the FSA and the EA, so that decision makers, users or consumers did not know the true risks posed by those banned chemicals.
It is likely that the false data generated has corrupted international safety data.
This places considerable doubt over any claim for concern over the environment and indicates that the PSD’s claimed commitment to the consumer and the environment may well be at risk.

Question 4. Do you consider that the interests of agriculture and horticulture can be accommodated through Defra’s strategic policy role and stakeholder engagement through the Pesticides Forum? If not, please give your reasons.

I suspect that the Pesticides Forum is there to persuade people to accept the chosen policy rather than to ensure the safety of those who work in agriculture or horticulture. Perhaps those involved do not understand that the failure to properly enforce regulations and ensure chemical safety has already harmed those industries by disabling many of its workers. That is too high a price to pay.

Question 5. Do you have any other concerns about PSD joining HSE? If so, please give your reasons.

As already stated above there are serious concerns about the way the HSE has dealt with pesticide and environmental issues. The excuse given for decades is that the HSE is over-stretched and under-funded and that they do not have sufficient inspectors on the ground to perform proper investigations when incidents occur. Their PIAP arrangements simply rubber-stamp the opinions of HSE inspectors and all too often the reports are inaccurate and the decisions inconclusive. Had they been properly conducted to the highest standards expected then the PSD would have had early warning of the dangers now recognised by the EU. Hiding evidence, producing deliberately false statements, and refusing to make corrections when the facts are , plus the carry-over of cases to statistics for new years, only adds to the confusion and to the dangers presented by the failure to recognise harmful effects.

I cannot see attitudes changing and nor can I see how a merger will remedy the claimed understaffing and under-funding. The merger may even divert some of HSE’s activities away from its many other areas of interest and responsibility. Nor can I see that such a merger will ensure that key members of the HSE or PSD staff will adhere to Defra’s declared policy of openness and honesty.
I hope that this will be the case but in my experience and that of many that I know this has certainly not been the case in the past, or even in the recent past.

I realise that those involved may not approve of many of my comments but I can assure you that I have collected the evidence to support what I say over almost 16 years and I have been far from impressed by any of the officials with whom I have had to communicate my concerns.
We are supposed to be working towards the same goals, that of the safety of users, consumers, and the environment, and yet, when the PSD and HSE have been given substantiated information that indicates serious errors in the data upon which they rely every effort is made to ignore the information and no effort at all is made to check it or to correct errors.

My fear is that until attitudes change at the PSD and HSE there will be no improvement and the costs to the country triggered by those failures will not be reduced.

I hope that my comments have been useful and hope for improvements in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Sadly to the detriment of not only the rural community but also the entire population the PSD was merged into the HSE, which itself is controlled by the Department for Work and Pensions.
The Pesticide "Safety" Directorate was renamed the Chemical Regulation Directorate indicating the move away from ensuring safety of the chemicals they approve.
The inevitable result is the built-in denial of harmful effects caused by those poisons by a department that approves chemicals, investigates incidents of ill-health caused by those chemicals and determines if the poisoned person is eligible for Industrial Injury Benefit for illnesses caused by those chemicals

Unsurprisingly since the change the HSE rarely refers to pesticide dangers and few cases of poisoning are recognised officially. Disgracefully the Industrial Disease legislation, which stood for decades, was also weakened to reflect these changes.

Dated 08/01/2008    Updated 20/02/2016

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