20 May 2004
Neil Mackay's article about the explosion at ICL Plastics ("Revealed: catalogue of health and safety hazards at explosion factory," Sunday Herald, 16 May 2004) and your associated editorial criticise HSE on the basis of rampant speculation.
As HSE and others involved in the investigation have already emphasised publicly, it is important to keep an open mind at this early stage of the investigation, and not jump to foregone conclusions. HSE hopes to complete its investigation speedily, but thoroughly, in conjunction with Strathclyde Police and the Procurator Fiscal.
Neil Mackay and his contributors also list a number of inaccurate claims HSE rebuts.
HSE did not inform ICL Plastics ahead of an inspector's visit last year. Nor did we identify without consent a whistleblower in the ICL workforce. Neil Mackay is also wrong to quote an HSE spokesman as saying "it's normal procedure" to identify whistleblowers. It is not. It is our procedure to investigate complaints, but we do not identify whistleblowers without their permission.
HSE strongly supports measures that protect whistleblowers from any form of victimisation. Our complaints handling system ensures that concerns about health and safety are dealt with effectively and efficiently. HSE and local authorities do all that they can to preserve the confidentiality of workers who raise concerns about health and safety, whenever this is requested.
We believe that every employee has the right to be safe at work and takes enforcement action when we believe there is a case to answer. However, first and foremost, the responsibility to manage health and safety in the workplace rests with the employer.
The article also argues that inspectors have left HSE 'in droves.' Just eight front line inspectors have resigned from HSE's field operations directorate in Scotland since 1996 - hardly a mass exodus.
HSE is not aware that the Scottish Executive has, as the article claims, called for a "full and frank inquiry into how HSE operates." What it has called for is a full and frank inquiry in the major incident at ICL - a view that we support.
I do not believe that this kind of speculative coverage is in anyone's interest - and it is certainly not in the interest of the pursuit of the truth.
HSE DIRECTOR, SCOTLAND