news release



for immediate use -24 June 2010 ( Back to news releases)

Open letter to Lord Young from those who bear the real burden of too little health and safety: deregulation is dead in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, don't risk workers lives in a business-led ideological review.

Lord Young admitted yesterday (Health and safety law has noble origins- so what went wrong? David Young 23rd June) that he now realises some of the problems he cites on health safety are more to do with perception than reality, as he quotes example after example which, even if they are true, have nothing at all to do with workplace safety, or with the Health and Safety at Work Act or any of the other safety regulations emanating from the EU.  We can only hope that now he will now proceed logically and stop looking to slash and burn health and safety laws when they are not the problem.

In the cases quoted, health and safety was used either as a lazy excuse, or was a complete misunderstanding of risk assessment, or were about a fear of being sued.  We should say rubbish to the silly examples, but not be gullible enough to believe the clearly apocryphal ones about conkers and crash helmets. 

Lord Young also said that since he started this review, he had not received one letter which disagreed with his preconceived view that health and safety has gone too far.   This is hardly the hallmark of a balanced review.  He and his team should be aware of the many articles and much evidence from trade unions, the TUC, Hazards magazine, the Hazards Campaign and also from us, Families Against Corporate Killers, the real victims of a workplace culture of too little health and safety not too much. 

We are alarmed at Lord Young moving down the unjust path of castigating emergency service workers as standing by and letting children or others die due to health and safety.  Suggesting emergency workers should be exempt from health and safety is counting their lives worth less than other workers.  The truth is always more complicated that the tabloid soundbite, and involves training, equipment and proper risk assessments as two examples illustrate.  In Greater Manchester, fire fighter Paul Metcalfe drowned in September 1999 while trying to rescue a teenage boy from a lake because of "a catalogue of failures" by his brigade, a court was told.  He lacked the required safety equipment that he and his colleagues had repeatedly requested but risked his life anyway.  Many firefighters have died in the course of doing the jobs over recent years.  PC Ian Terry was killed in Manchester in June 2008, in a training exercise which was so free of even the most basic health and safety procedures, that the inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killing.  We do not want exemptions that would risk the lives of more emergency workers.

Families Against Corporate Killers has written to Lord Young asking for a meeting as we are so concerned about his unbalanced views and  that he only seem to consider the so-called ‘burdens on business’ rather than the burdens on workers and their families, and the very real burden of employers externalising their cost onto the whole of society.  So in this open letter to Lord Young we try to provide a reality check.

Firstly, many more workers and members of the public are killed by in work-related incidents than the figures you quote which are the partial figures reported annually by the HSE.  This number of those killed by work is too large but is only those which are reported to the HSE under RIDDOR, which excludes all workers killed on the roads, in the air and seas, members of the public, and workers committing suicide due to work pressures.  More are killed by work-related activities than in what we call homicide every year.  Many, many more are killed by occupational illnesses due to poor working conditions and hundreds of thousands more are made ill by work every year (‘The Whole Story’; ‘Job to Die for?’) 

Almost all of these deaths, from incidents (not accidents) and illnesses would be prevented if employers merely complied with health and safety law, to give workers basic minimum standards at work.  But they do not comply, and many employers are serial offenders, and some become serial killers, including household names like BP, Biffa, Corus, to name a few.  Employers are breaking health and safety law, killing injuring and making workers ill, on a massive but mostly unreported scale.  The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is no surprise to those who know the history and corporate behaviour of BP, and many other companies.  They have been getting away with it for too long.  Unless he listens to other perspectives, Lord Young’s review threatens to swallow more red herrings thrown up by the business lobby, and end up covered in oil (The Bottom Line)

No-one watching the events in the Gulf can fail now to understand how one corporation’s avoidance of health and safety measures can be externalized onto the wider community, not forgetting, as often is,  the 11 workers killed those injured and all their families heartbreak and life long suffering. It is vital that Lord Young understands the message – letting business lobby government for less regulation and less enforcement cost lives and money we can’t afford (BP).  This government may say we are all in it together but we know that’s not true.  Lord Young must also stop repeating the fact that health and safety regulation is spiralling out of control, when the fact is due to simplification and amalgamation, there is less regulation than there was 40 years ago and less than when he was last in government, charged with creating a bonfire of regulations in the 1980s! 

Lord Young should also know that less than one in ten workers made ill, injured or killed receives any compensation, either state benefits or civil damages.  The facts tend to get in the way of a good ‘compo culture scroungers’ story.  Lord Young may choose to believe that business bears a hellish burden from complying (or not as we have seen above) with health and safety law, but the facts do not support him. (A little bit of compensation).  In fact good health and safety saves business money, but poor health and safety costs not only workers and their families, it also cost all of us.   Employers create 100% of the risks that hurt workers but they pay less than a quarter of the vast up to £30 billion cost, each year, the families pay and then the state pays in benefits and health costs (Who pays? You do!).  We cannot afford the heart break, in these deficit reduction days we cannot afford the economic costs.  Stronger law and tighter regulation would save us all £billions each year.

It is also untrue that there is an army of ‘nazi health and safety inspectors’.  All forms of enforcement action have dropped off a cliff in recent years.  Only 1 in 13 major and fatal injuries is even investigated, and in 98 % of major injury cases there is no enforcement action taken against the employer at all: not an improvement notice, not a prohibition notice and not a prosecution (The state we’re in).  And the chance of an employer  being caught not complying, which the HSE accepts is the cause of about 80% of all injuries and illness, is now down to a chance inspection once is 38 years (Once in a lifetime).

Lord Young asks, in other article, who has seen a dangerous office?  Well those office workers at Stockline blown up in an explosion and injured, and the families of those killed for a start.  And many of us work in unhealthy offices which may not kill, but can certainly make us very sick indeed. Musculo-skeletal disorders and stress illnesses caused by excessive work demands, cause the most time of work and are rife in offices.   Many deaths occur in workplace which would be deemed low risk and allowed exemption from inspection under Tory plans which mirror the models that brought us Enron, Madoff and the credit crunch.  But as we have seen above, there is far too little inspection of workplaces to even begin to establish which might be truly low risk or not.

Many families of people who were killed just for going to work, also once believed the fantasy Lord Young still adheres to: that H&S in the UK is fantastic, very strict, that laws are strong, even over the top, and they are rigorously, even zealously enforced.  In fact as we learnt after the avoidable incident that took a life and changed out lives for good, employers are frequently completely ignorant of the law, feel under no great pressure to comply and that the enforcement authorities do not appear to use their powers preventively or very forcefully, are under-funded, under-supported and undermined by the ‘elf and safety gorn mad’ mantra preached by the media and, sadly, parroted by Lord Young and others. 

When employers kill, often through gross negligence they may face no legal consequences for their actions, and even if prosecuted only face fines which are often paltry.  Directors and managers who make the decisions that lead to deaths and injuries, are less legally accountable than a teenage hoodie on your street.  For example the actions of the BP board in London, under Lord Browne were criticised extensively by official US reports as leading to the Texas City refinery explosion which killed 15 and injured many more.  Not only were none of the directors, including Lord Browne, held accountable in court, he is now in charge of overseeing government department spending.

Families Against Corporate Killers urge Lord Young not to be taken in by many of the false stories he is being fed, and to seek out the real facts, to hear our stories and many others which show how employers are getting away with widespread criminality from lack of compliance up to gross negligence.  We are concerned at the lack of balance and preconception in this review.  As we all reel from the economic disaster caused by deregulation, light touch regulation and letting the financial business sector regulate itself, we say to Lord Young and the coalition government: deregulation of health and safety is dead in the oil polluted water of the Gulf of Mexico, gone up in the smoke of Stockline and Buncefield, it is deader than the famous dead parrot.  Health and safety law and its enforcement is not mere red tape but a vital life-line, needed even more so now when we will need all our strength and health to survive the terrible cuts inflicted on us to pay off the deficit. Don't cut H&S and condemn us to even less safe, even less healthy workplaces, by following a failed business led ideology.

Hilda Palmer
On Behalf of FACK

Fack Founder members:

Linda Whelan:  “My son Craig Whelan (23) and his fellow steeple jack Paul Wakefield were killed in an explosion when managers signed a permit to work using hot cutting gear to dismantle a metal chimney despite being advised this was too dangerous.”

Dorothy and Douglas Wright; “Our son Mark Wright (37) was killed in an explosion when he was told by his manger to bale aerosol containers despite a risk assessment and the baler’s manual forbidding this.”

Linzi H“My husband Andy Herbertson (29) was killed when he fell as he was dismantling a printing machine using incorrectly assembled scaffolding without training or protective measure”

Bet and Mick Murphy:  “Our 17 year old son Lewis Murphy was killed in an explosion when transferring petrol and diesel to a waste tank and fumes were sucked into the flue of gas boiler, in a garage where the employer believed health and safety was ‘just common sense’ and had no safe procedures set up.”

Louise Taggart: “My brother Michael Adamson (26) was electrocuted when a live wire had not been isolated but was marked out of use.”

Paul and Dawn Adams “Our son Samuel Adams was 6 when he was killed at a shopping centre by a heavy 60-90kg barrier that was designed without any restraining measures...”

Mike and Lynne Hutin: “Our son Andrew H.utin was 20 when he was killed with colleagues when a faulty blast furnace blew up.”

Plus over 50 other FACK members

1 The Whole Story SHP December 2008 and A Job to die for?, Hazards 92, 2005
2 The Bottom Line, Hazards 110, 2010
3. Hazards magazine magazine BP pages
4. A little bit of compensation Hazards 90, 2005
5. Who Pays? You do Hazards 106, 2009
6. The State we’re in Hazards 109, 2010
7. Once in a Lifetime Hazards 100, 2010