The government’s attack on health and safety will kill – not save lives!

We didn’t vote to die at work! The government’s attack on health and safety will kill – not save lives!

David Cameron’s ill informed ” ‘elf and safety gorn mad” attack dog, Lord Young, will set out his plans for the future of health and safety in the next few days – and the Hazards Campaign fears it won’t be good news based on what we know already and says: ‘We didn’t vote to die at work.’

The Hazards Campaign claims the evidence shows the whole basis for Lord Young’s attack is false. Lord Young’s ‘review’ is based on the argument there has been a massive rise in compensation cases – the facts say there hasn’t been. He says businesses have to spend a day a month on health and safety – workers dream of employers paying even that small level of attention to the issue.

Lord Young has persistently argued less hazardous workplaces should be exempt from inspections. He has targeted office work saying it’s not dangerous and doesn’t need any enforcement oversight. However, many thousands of office workers face work-related ill-health caused by long hours of work, excessive workloads and bullying management practices leading to stress-related illness such as heart disease and depression, plus musculo-skeletal problems from computer work. All of which can make the office a very unhealthy place to work. Even so, offices are currently unlikely to see in an inspector in a lifetime unless something goes drastically wrong.

The Hazards Campaign has previously criticised government estimates of the costs of complying with health and safety law to business as failing to take into account the positive effects of compliance – the enormous cost to workers and their families, and the fact that the state picks up the majority of the bill for the death injury and illnesses caused by employers in NHS treatment, benefits and so on. The HSE estimate this cost to UK society at a minimum of £30 billion every year, of which the employers who caused it, pay less than 25%.

During his review Lord Young has spoken to people who have presented him with facts which undermine his basic argument that over-zealous activity on health and safety at work is the root of all our problems. We fear he may not heed what he has been told – that enforcement has declined massively over the last ten years, there are more traffic wardens in London than there are HSE inspectors in the whole of the country, and no-one ever died, or was injured or made ill by an over zealous risk assessment – but plenty have been by the lack of one. The Hazards Campaign fears the “consultation” is a sham to legitimise the forthcoming attacks by the coalition government on the regulation and enforcement of workplace safety and health.

Following the publication of Lord Young’s report the ConDem government will decide how to implement it, which presents a severe challenge to the Lib Dems. The Lord Young review was a pre-election Conservative Party policy and they are only in government as result of coalition with the Liberal Democrats who did not sign up to this, and it does not feature in the joint agreement between the parties. Vince Cable, now the coalition Business Secretary, has previously spoken out in defence of health and safety and the funding of the HSE. In May 2003, Vince Cable, then the Lib Dem shadow trade secretary, criticised government plans to cut HSE’s budget because of the impact this will have on prosecution levels. He warned that it was “critical that the HSE invest in a sufficient, effective, properly trained resource to investigate and prosecute where negligence has occurred.” He also said: “The time has come to invest seriously in saving people’s lives and to call cavalier killers to account”. The Hazards Campaign says it is time for the Lib Dems to stand up and be counted, as none of us voted for the current onslaught on health and safety protection and cuts in its enforcement.

Rather than cut the protection to any workers, the Hazards Campaign calls for:

Strengthening the enforcement role of the HSE and Local Authority inspectors to prevent employers killing, disabling, maiming and making people unwell at work, and bringing Vince Cables ‘Cavalier killers to account’.

No businesses should be exempt from the enforcement regime, such as by “earned autonomy”, as these are failed models and evidence from the HSE’s own prosecution database shows that many employers are serial offenders, some are even serial killers, so we cannot trust business with workers lives and health.

Laws placing explicit health and safety duties on company directors who make the decisions which lead to disasters like Buncefield, ICL/Stockline, and serial killing of employers like BP and Corus, to make them individually accountable, having to face the full force of the law for their actions.

More individual employers who make the decisions which cause widespread ill-health, deaths and disasters, should face jail. Only a handful of employers has ever been jailed for negligently killing workers while dozens who mistreat animals go to prison every year.

Workers should be given more rights to defend themselves against hazardous employers. Trade union safety reps save lives and do it voluntarily, often in difficult circumstances which risk their job and career. Yet they are officially recognised for reducing accidents and ill-health at work via the union safety effect. They need more support and enforcement resources to do their jobs even more effectively

Hazards Campaign Chair adds: “No-one voted to die at work in the last election, but the coalition government policies so far, through the Lord Young review, other deregulatory policies, plus the planned cuts in public services, threaten the regulation and enforcement of workplace safety and health. They risk condemning more workers to death injury and ill-health.”

For more information contact:

Hilda Palmer, Hazards Campaign – 0161636 7557

For more information:

We didn’t vote to die at work:

The case for health and safety (TUC):

A neutered watchdog (an analysis of HSE’s collapsing enforcement performance):

Trade union safety effect:

Hazards Campaign:

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