A South West MP is demanding explanations from the Environment Agency after reports it has become ‘obsessed’ with health and safety. A whistleblower quoted in a daily newspaper claims agency staff have been banned from carrying out basic tasks such as clearing waterways because of overzealous rules.
Lewis Clarke www.devonlive.com
This has extended to the work of removing debris and blockages from rivers, often delayed for months while risk assessments are carried out. Officials are also said to be imposing strict controls on using hand tools such as screwdrivers until training has been ‘developed and assessed’.
Now Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, says he intends to find out whether the allegations are true. “It is shocking to learn that basic Environment Agency work is being delayed because some people have gone completely over the top on matters of health and safety,” he said.
“In an area like Somerset the daily lives of thousands of people depend on waterways being routinely cleaned and maintained – and there are still many painful memories of what happened eight years ago when the Environment Agency decided it was no longer necessary to do so.
“If these allegations are true it is by no means the first time that an organisation has taken health and safety precautions to a ridiculous extreme. I am taking steps to ascertain if these claims are well-founded and if they are I shall be making it very clear to the Environment Agency that it needs to adopt a more proportionate attitude. I fully appreciate that its staff need to be protected while they are at work but precautions must not be allowed to create a wider risk to the general public.”
An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “Our staff carry out vital work to protect the environment, people and wildlife and we are committed to providing a safe, healthy and high quality working environment for them while they undertake this vital role.
“In dealing with routine work and serious incidents around the country, we will continue to take every step necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our staff, whilst always being considerate of how we manage the environmental risks to the communities we serve.”
• A recent review of all of our high risk activities identified a number of health and safety improvements that we are in the process of making. In some cases, we decided that we needed to pause carrying out some activities whilst we ensured that the correct health and safety measures and training were in place.
• However, this does not mean that these activities just stopped. Where appropriate, we have put more work out to our supply chain to deliver on our behalf.
• Much of the annual programme of river and coastal maintenance work is routinely delivered by our contractors: we have simply extended the amount of work that they are delivering on our behalf where we have deemed this necessary.
• Furthermore, we have additional risk control measures in place to allow our own staff to undertake paused activities where they are essential and there is no other way of delivering the work.
• Many of the paused activities have already been re-started by our employees. Most recently, we allowed certain maintenance machinery to be brought back into use with improved health and safety procedures.