Minister explains failure to allow public access or publish any documentation
Britain’s workplace safety regulator has held its board meetings entirely behind closed doors for the past year of because of technological limitations, a minister has claimed.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Health and Safety Executive held open meetings of its executive board, which members of the public could register to attend – subject to availability of spaces. These meetings typically took place quarterly, and papers and minutes from these meetings were then published on the organisation’s website.
The board had been scheduled to convene publicly in March, June, September and December last year, in Sheffield, Wales, London and Scotland, respectively.
These gatherings did not take place, but the board has instead been meeting virtually, according to employment minister Mims Davies.
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The public have not been included in these meetings – nor have any minutes or papers been released since September 2019.
All of which, Davies said, is because the technology used to meet remotely has made this impossible.
“At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, in common with a number of organisations in the public sector, HSE switched its Board meetings to a virtual format,” she added. “Due to limitations of the technology used, it was not possible for any of these meetings to be open and therefore all board meetings since March 2020 have been closed.”
Answering a written parliamentary question from Labour MP for Middlesbrough Andy McDonald, the minister claimed that the regulator still wishes to operate transparently – although no board meetings for the foreseeable future will be open to citizens.
“Whilst the HSE Board is firmly committed to engaging with stakeholders in an open and transparent way, the format of this is subject to review and therefore, at the present time, no future open meeting dates have been set,” she said.
The HSE is a regulator that works across Great Britain with a remit to ensuring the safety of workplaces. Its website claims that the organisation “concentrates on the most serious risks… we target industries with the greatest hazards, and sectors with the worst risk management record”.
Breaches of health and safety law can result in HSE bringing prosecutions against companies or directors, who can face unlimited fines or up to two years in prison.
The HSE is sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions.