Full public inquiry into factory blast is essential

As the researchers who produced the independent report into the circumstances surrounding the ICL/Stockline factory disaster, we welcome and endorse the call by Prospect, the trade union which represents Health and Safety Executive employees, for a full public inquiry.

We support Prospect's view that:

1, "a public inquiry should focus on the key issues affecting the performance of the HSE, to inform any changes needed to ensure the best health and safety protection for workers".

2, "the debate ... should not scapegoat individuals constrained by public policy but should concentrate on improving the effectiveness of the HSE" .

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3, "the government needs to accept responsibility for placing a greater focus on funding than effectiveness".

We are alarmed at additional points made by Prospect that "the HSE has been forced to cut back on staff numbers and training, close offices and prioritise work on risks causing the greatest numbers of injuries in the workplace as it chases Public Service Agreement targets. These priorities are slips and trips, workplace transport, falls from height and musculoskeletal disorders. Since 2003, HSE inspectors are under instructions to look just at these issues during inspections. Unless 'matters of evident concern' are raised they cannot use their experience and discretion to look into other risks such as fire and explosion risks, structural safety and dangerous machinery."

We share Prospect's concerns about these serious developments affecting the capacity of HSE inspectors to carry out all necessary risk assessments and believe such matters should be addressed fully in a public inquiry

The HSE has stated in a letter to us that it expects the inquiry in public into the ICL/Stockline explosion to "promote transparency and build confidence in the HSE's investigative process". The only way this aim can be met is if the inquiry includes a full and transparent investigation into the role of the HSE in Scotland. In order that this can be achieved, the inquiry in public due to be announced before the end of September must be led by a senior Scottish judge.

TOMMY GORMAN, (PROF) ANDREW WATTERSON, University of Stirling; (PROF) CHRISTINE COOPER, (DR) ANDREA COULSON, (PROF) PHIL TAYLOR, University of Strathclyde; (PROF) MATTHIAS BECK, University of York; (DR) DAVE WHYTE, University of Liverpool; JIM McCOURT c/o University of Stirling