Minutes of the 117th meeting of the Board of the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland held on Thursday 29 July 2021 at 9.30am via video conference.
- Mr D Martin – Chair
- Mr H Sinclair
- Mr T Wright
- Mr S McDowell
- Mr A Cooke
- Mrs S Rooney
- Mr G Strong
- Mrs C Irwin
- Dr P Hart
- Ms C Mounce – Boardroom Apprentice
- Mr R Kidd – Chief Executive
- Dr B Monson – Deputy Chief Executive
- Mrs N Monson – Deputy Chief Executive
- Mr L Burns – Deputy Chief Executive
- Mr K Neeson – Deputy Chief Executive
- Mr M Ditchfield - HSENI
- Ms L Nelson - Minutes
The Chair welcomed everyone to the 117th meeting of the HSENI Board.
The Chair informed the Board that Ms Mounce has completed her year with HSENI as a Boardroom Apprentice. He hopes Ms Mounce found her time useful with HSENI and wished her every success in the future.
The Chair also informed the Board that Mrs Martin, HSENI’s Accountant, had given birth to a baby daughter and on behalf of the Board he congratulated Mrs Martin.
Mr Ditchfield joined the meeting at 9.50am.
2. Corporate health, safety and welfare
The Chief Executive reported that there were no issues to report.
3. Declaration of Conflict of Interest(s)
None to report.
4. Minutes from previous meeting
The minutes of the Board meeting held on 1 June 2021 were circulated to Board members prior to the meeting.
Mrs Monson stated that she had asked for a small amendment to be made in relation to Trainee Inspector training dates.
The minutes were approved and adopted.
5. Matters arising
No action points to report.
6. Audit and Risk Management Committee (ARMC) Report
The ARMC met on 24 June 2021. The following areas were highlighted by the ARMC Chair as having been discussed at the latest ARMC meeting:
- Northern Ireland Audit Office’s National Fraud Initiative (NFI) Self Appraisal Checklist document
- matters arising and action points discussed
- Internal Audit update by Mr Lindsey. Procurement audit has been completed and is likely to provide a ‘Satisfactory’ assurance rating. Draft Terms of Reference (TOR) for the Case Mangement System audit have been issued to and approved by ARMC members
- External Audit revised timetable for laying of Annual Report & Accounts. Assurances from both Northern Ireland Audit Office and PriceWaterhouseCoopers that the new timetable was achievable
- the Risk Register, focusing on financial, reputational and emerging risks
- The Audit recommendations progress paper
- publications from Department of Finance's Accountability and Financial Management Division
- annual review of ARMC TOR.
- the matter of draft ARMC minutes to the Board has been deferred to the Board workshop in February 2022 for further discussion
- ARMC Annual Report to Board
The Chair stated that he did not want to make changes to the format of the papers until the Board workshop due to take place on 7 February 2022. The purpose of the workshop will be to review all aspects of Board workings/structure and information provided.
Dr Hart commended the ARMC Committee on the amount of work covered. She thanked all, especially the new members, and welcomes the discussion on draft minutes.
The Chair thanked Mr Wright and the Committee for the ARMC report.
7. Chief Executive’s Report
The following items were highlighted by the Chief Executive:
Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19)
A discussion took place in relation to the increase in the number of cases of the Delta variant. The safe reoccupation of Ladas Drive is being kept under constant review by SMT and the Premises team. Additional measures have been introduced including the wearing of face coverings in transit areas such as corridors and stairwells, as well as sanitising door handles and surfaces. All staff must sign in/out on entering and leaving the building.
HSENI is also working in parallel with the wider Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) discussions in preparation for when buildings can be more fully utilised and what that might look like going forward. A staff survey shows that across the NICS approximately 80 percent of staff favour a hybrid arrangement of home and office working in the future. This figure is reflective of the views of HSENI staff. The Chief Executive agreed to forward results of the staff survey to Board members.
A discussion took place in relation to working from home and staff welfare. The Chief Executive stated that staff have been provided with advice and guidance on managing time as well as being encouraged by line managers to take leave, appropriate breaks and to take a walk at lunchtime as they need downtime and normality. The Chair said it would be helpful for the October Board meeting if SMT formulated a policy or process of the way forward. The Chief Executive said it is hard to say how this will be done as HSENI is guided by the NICS wide policy. Any further information available on this issue will be brought to the next Board meeting.
Mrs Rooney asked if staff accumulated excess leave, was there a facility to offer remuneration in place of leave. The Chief Executive explained that there was no policy for remuneration and he assured the Board that staff were being encouraged to take leave.
Mr Cooke commended SMT for the approach to the wellbeing of HSENI staff. He said that HSENI was reactive when it needed to be and deserves recognition for this. Mrs Irwin agreed with Mr Cooke. The Chief Executive also agreed and updated the Board on staff called out to an incident over the weekend.
Dr Hart asked, due to the changes since the beginning of the pandemic, if figures could be provided for the next Board meeting in relation to the number of COVID-19 cases in the workplace and staff in isolation. The Chief Executive explained that HSENI has had a small number of staff with COVID-19, contracted through community/family transmission and not through work, as well as a few isolation cases.
Operations / Assembly business
The Chief Executive informed the Board that he had met Minister Lyons at a Farm Safety event earlier in the month. The Chief Executive is looking forward to a more detailed briefing with him.
Fatal accidents / injury rates
There have been three work related fatalities in 2020/21 compared to five fatalities in the same period in 2019/20. The sectors involved are Agriculture (2) and Public Sector (1).
The Chief Executive highlighted that complaints, especially in the manufacturing sector, have started to come down. Dr Monson explained that there has been an increase in Reporting of Injury, Diseases and Dangerous Occurences (RIDDOR) for over three days and major incidents. This was to be expected as businesses are returning to normal. Inspection numbers are low but these will increase later in the year. Advisory visits and enforcement action are returning to what we would expect for normal operating.
Mr McDowell noticed a rise in RIDDORs reported and asked if this was the normal level. Dr Monson said they are slightly higher, again due to the reopening of businesses.
Mr McDowell asked why four fatalities had been reported to HSENI but HSENI had only recorded three. The Chief Executive explained that the fourth was reported to HSENI. HSENI had completed a preliminary investigation which concluded that there was no at work activity and would not be investigating.
Mrs Irwin commented on the large percentage increase in complaints referred to in Annex 2 of the Chief Executive’s report, stating that no detail was provided. The Chief Executive explained that there was a huge increase in complaints received by HSENI at the start of the pandemic. Mrs Irwin stated that it would be useful to have a further breakdown of the increase. Dr Monson explained that we would not normally see such a perecentage rise in the statistics, again due to COVID-19. He said the Case Mangement System supplier would have to produce new reports to provide further breakdowns and this would incur further costs. It was agreed to defer this until the workshop in February 2022.
Mr Strong commented on the social media publications figures, stating that there is no information to measure how productive or successful the campaigns etc are. He asked if there was a strategy to review progress. The Chief Executive stated that a lot of the work carried out by HSENI is about prevention and education, for example the farm safety campaign in rural schools. It is difficult to determine how many accidents HSENI has prevented. Social media is a low cost effective way to get HSENI’s message into the public domain. Mr Sinclair agreed with the Chief Executive, stating that it is difficult to determine the number of accidents prevented. Mr Sinclair said, in relation to the Farm Safety Campaign, past statistics show that fatalities are reduced, showing that the campaign is working.
Dr Monson informed the Board that there is a third party review carried out in relation to the Farm Safety Campaign measuring the effectiveness of the key campaign messages and attitudinal changes. It is not feasible for HSENI to carry out surveys for smaller campaigns as it is expensive and time consuming. HSENI Inspectors receive feedback when carrying out inspections.
The Chair stated that quarterly statistics alone do not tell much and that he thought it would be useful for the Board to receive a summary of trends of key outputs identified in the Corporate Plan to date. The Chief Executive said that this data can be found in previous Annual Reports.
Quarterly Monitoring Return
Mr Neeson updated the Board on the Control Of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Statutory requirements amber status. This objective is amber because the inspections and testing have not yet started. However, they will be carried out before the year end.
Mrs Irwin commented that it would be helpful to have the Red/Amber/Green rating definition on the papers. It was also agreed that yellow would better than the amber colour.
- Ms Nelson to include Red/Amber/Green rating definition on paper and change amber to yellow
Mrs Irwin commented that she thought the target outputs and the update on progress in the EU Exit Legislation – Market Surveillance – Chemicals on page 35 did not match. A discussion took place in relation to this and the fact that no staff have yet been recruited to carry out the work. It was suggested to change to wording of the target output/s, however this cannot be done as the target is included in the published Operating Plan.
Mrs Rooney suggested that the Chair write a letter to NICS HR outlining the necessity to fill EU vacancies. The Chief Executive explained that he had already done this, but unfortunately there are other Departments and Arm's-Length Bodies (ALBs) across NICS in the same situation. The Chair stated that it had been addressed at the quarterly Oversight and Liaison meetings with the Department and would continue to be addressed until the vacancies are filled.
Mr Wright stated that this has been a long running issue for HSENI, it has been discussed at ARMC and the decision was made for control measures out of HSENI’s remit to be identified on the risk register. Mr Wright assured the Board that this has been highlighted within the Department.
8. Human Resources (HR) Report
The Board was updated in relation to the HR Report and the following items highlighted:
Due to Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency's (NISRA’s) ongoing work on NICS HR statistics, no data is available. Mr Neeson assured the Board that SMT has no concerns in relation to sickness absence within HSENI.
Mr Neeson updated the Board on the vacancy management issue with NICSHR to fill vacancies.
Vacancies in Progress
- Higher Scientific Officer (HSO) - HSENI Laboratory - In progress
- Health and Safety Inspectors (Eight posts) - January 2022
- Staff Officer (SO) Accountant - Finance - September 2021
- Deputy Principal (DP) Temporary Accountant - Finance - August 2021
- DP (two posts) - Legislation - May 2021
- Accountant DP - Temporary cover – May 2021
- Staff Officer - (Planning / Notifications /Complaints) - June 2021
- Executive Officer 1 (EO1) - Complaints Officer - June 2021
Trainee Inspector competition - HSENI is progressing work on developing a training programme for Trainee Inspectors. HSENI is liaising with NICS HR to initiate a competition once the training programme has been agreed.
Current Trainee Inspector cohorts - completion of training programme and consideration of temporary promotion.
Staffing Matters - NI Protocol (NIP)
Vacancies in progress
- Deputy Chief Executive (DCE) - Grade 6 - In progress
- two Principal Professional Technical Officers (PPTO) - EU Exit (two posts) - Chemicals & Product Safety - July 2021
- DP/Special Professional Technical Officer (SPTO) - EU Chemicals (new post required for EU NIP)
- three EO1/Professional Technical Officer (PTO) - EU Chemicals (new post required for EU NIP)
- DP/SPTO - EU Product Safety (new post required for EU NIP)
- 2 EO1/PTO - EU Product Safety (new post required for EU NIP)
- Executive Officer 2 (EO2) - Admin support for EU Chemicals and EU Product Safety
Mrs Monson updated the Board on the training programme for trainee inspectors: (Agenda Item 13)
This involved producing a well established training programme for local delivery, giving HSENI scope to recruit a larger cohort of trainees and benefit from savings on travel and subsistence.
The programme will comprise of competence based assessments, investigative / legal course and a National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) Diploma. Key elements of competence fall within the Professional Practice Competency Framework (PPCF) of the Regulators’ Training Programme (RTP).
HSENI is anticipating to have new trainees recruited to begin the training programme in January 2022. They will commence the NEBOSH Diploma in March 2022, hopefully completing it in July 2023. They will then complete the legal training with a view to re-band as a fully qualified Inspector at the two year stage.
At present, there are two cohorts of trainees:
- cohort A – March 2019
- cohort F – October 2019
Cohort A have been enrolled on the RTP. All training going as planned and they are due to finish in August 2022.
Cohort F trainees encountered problems with their start dates for training due to the pandemic. They will receive formal legal training from HSE in September 2021, but there is a possibility they may not re-band until April 2024. This would mean the new trainees due to start in January 2022 would re-band before them.
HSENI is looking at a hybrid model for cohort F. Trainees would receive the legal training unit from HSE, commencing September 2021 until May 2022, then become involved in the new HSENI training programme, with a view to complete in August/September 2023.
To ensure fairness for all trainees, they will be offered to move to the hybrid model or choose to complete the RTP.
HSENI is ready to formally consult with Trade Union Side (TUS) for a two week period. Once this has ended, HSENI will speak with the trainees and see which route they would prefer to follow..
Mrs Monson thanked Miss Donaghy and the DCEs for the amount of work put in to get this far.
Mr McDowell inquired about the complement of staff and the additional 13 NI Protocol staff. The Chief Executive explained that the NI Protocol staff are additional to the baseline figure. Mr Ditchfield stated that the NI Protocol staff would be funded by a different budget from other HSENI staff.
Dr Hart asked if HSENI would undertake to complete the sickness absence figures. Mr Neeson explained that this has been an ongoing issue for the past year and involves all ALBs. The Chief Executive stated that SMT has ongoing control over HSENI’s sickness absence due to the small numbers and SMT is aware of the circumstances causing the sickness. SMT is content that there are no concerns relating to sickness absence at present.
Mr Cooke inquired if the opening saving of £40,000 against posts not filled in April 2021 can be kept by HSENI or if it had to be returned. Mr Neeson explained that if HSENI was unable to spend it, it may be returned to the Department in the October monitoring round.
Mr Wright stated it was great news in relation to the training programme, and that this was representative of the hard work undertaken. He asked how the contracts were appointed. Mrs Monson stated that as they were standard “off the shelf” courses they had not yet been appointed.
The Chair concurred with Mr Wright, stating that it was good to see the process progressing. He added that it was important to ensure the contracts are robustly in place before the trainees commence, with firm commitments from the training providers.
9. Finance Report
The Chair welcomed Mr Ditchfield to the meeting and thanked him for attending the meeting to update the Board on the Finance Report.
The following items on the Finance Report were highlighted by Mr Ditchfield:
- staff and operating expenditure to 30 June 2021
- bids approved via the June monitoring rounds
- programme expenditure to 30 June 2021
- capital expenditure
- Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) expenditure
- profiling for the remainder of the year
The Chair asked if future Board Finance Reports could include a breakdown of expenditure for the programme budget. Going forward, Mr Ditchfield will provide a breakdown of programme expenditure.
- Mr Ditchfield to include a breakdown of Programme expenditure on future Board reports
Mr McDowell thanked Mr Ditchfield for his first report to the Board. He inquired about the £120,000 to cover the current year’s pay award. Mr Ditchfield explained this was to cover the NICS pay award and was outside of HSENI’s control.
10. Legislation Report
Mr Burns reported on the latest position regarding draft EU Exit Regulations is as follows:
- Draft Biocidal Products (Fees and Charges) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2021 - The draft Regulations have been cleared by Departmental Solicitor’s Office (DSO). The Briefing and motion for approval have been prepared and when cleared, Ministers approval will be sought. A date for the debate will then be arranged
- Draft Equipment and Protective Systems Intended for Use in Potentially Explosive Atmospheres (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2021 - A revised draft of the Regulations was passed to the Departmental Solicitor’s Office for vetting on 16 April 2021
- Draft Chemicals (Health and Safety) and Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2021 - A revised draft of the Regulations was passed to the Departmental Solicitor’s Office for vetting on 9 April 2021 following which legal clearance has been received. An SL1 is currently being prepared to issue to the Department for the Economy (DfE) Committee Clerk and a submission is being drafted for the attention of the DfE Minister
- The Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2021 - The Regulations will require the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly before they can be made. Legislation Unit has been working through DSO queries and their clearance of the draft Regulations is required before a debate in the Assembly can be arranged. DSO has subsequently informed HSENI that it does not offer a drafting service and has recommended that an external drafter be engaged to advise on the Regulations. DSO is to provide further instructions to HSENI as to what will be required for costings etc
In relation to all the above entries, HSENI is liaising with GB colleagues to help ensure that requirements such as amendments to comply with the Northern Ireland Protocol are met.
Mr Burns informed the Board that there is an ongoing issue for HSENI and drafting legislation, as HSENI does not have a policy function within the Legislation team. This work was previously carried out by HSE GB. The Chair inquired if HSENI is required to make amendments to EU Legislation. Mr Burns confirmed that under Annex 2 of the NI Protocol HSENI would have to make required amendments to the legislation. The Chair asked if there a risk for potential penalties as HSENI does not have the facility to draft legislation. Mr Burns said any failure to bring in legislation is a breach of the International Agreement between the EU and the UK Government.
Mr Burns assured the Board he is content that HSENI is meeting its responsibilities, identifying the most important pieces of legislation.
Dr Hart stated that there had been no consultations since the last report. She asked if consultations were reported annually. Mr Burns said that the board reports are quarterly. Mr Burns stated that there are several consultations in progress which require approval from other Departments.
Mr Cooke asked if HSENI is involved in the consultation on an amendment to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulations. Mr Burns replied this is handled by Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on a UK wide basis. Mr Burns said a link to the consultation will be placed on HSENI’s website. Mr Burns will forward the link to Board members.
- Mr Burns to forward link for PPE Regulations Consultation to Board members
The Board noted the remainder of the report.
11. EU Exit
Mr Burns updated the Board on EU Exit preparations.
The Chief Executive reported that a Principal Officer (PO)/PPTO (Grade 7): EU Chemicals and a Principal Officer/PPTO (Grade 7): EU Product Safety have been filled.
The two POs will interview candidates to fill vacancies within their teams.
Mr Burns informed the Board that if staff are not in place by September 2021 this could have a knock-on effect for work within the teams.
Mr Burns reported that there was a UK Command Paper issued earlier in the month. He is not sure of what impact this will have. It could have profound implications for HSENI. Mr Burns agreed to forward a copy of the UK Command Paper to Board members.
- Mr Burns to send link for UK Command Paper to Board members
12. Trainee Inspector training
Covered under HR report.
13. Draft Published Operating Plan
The Chief Executive advised the Board that the Minister had approved the Operating Plan for 2021/22.
The board are asked to note the current plan for 2021/22 which is based on the ongoing Covid activities as well as our intention to see an increase in normal activities in the latter part of the year. This plan will be put to the new Minister and he will be invited to note and approve it in due course. The CEO would wish to apologise to the board for the erroneous information which he conveyed.
The Chair asked Board members to highlight any comments they may have to the Chief Executive.
14. Any other business
HSENI Schedule of Board Meetings 2022
Board members were asked to note the schedule of Board meetings for 2022.
BT debt letter
The Chief Executive and Mr Ditchfield updated the Board on an overdue payment letter received from BT in relation to the telephone account attached to the lift in Ladas Drive. Mr Ditchfield provided proof of the £24 payment to BT. BT accounts continued to send overdue payment letters, finally referring HSENI to a debt collection agency with added on fees. The matter has now been rectified and BT has been asked to confirm that this matter has been erased from their records. The Chair thanked Mr Ditchfield for his work on this.
The Chair asked for any further comments. Mr McDowell thanked the Chief Executive for the Board papers, Ms Nelson for forwarding news releases and Mr Rafferty, Principal Inspector of Occupational Health and Hygiene Group, for the delivery of a webinar he recently attended.
The Chair informed Board members that he is intending to arrange informal face to face meetings with new Board members in small groups and he will be in touch over the next few weeks.
The Chair thanked all for attending.
15. Date of next Board Meeting
The next Board meeting will be held on Thursday 28 October 2021 at 9:30 am
The meeting ended at 1:30 pm
Minutes were signed by the HSENI Chairman on 15 December 2021.