In January 2012 the Prime Minister made an outspoken attack on health and safety regulation. He said that he was “waging war against the excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses” and that businesses had to “battle against a tide of risk assessment forms”. He also said that the Health and Safety Executive had been given the task of abolishing or consolidating up to half of existing regulations.
The Government also set up no less than three reviews of health and safety regulation in the past year and a half. These were a review by Lord Young, a review by Professor Ragnar Lofstedt and what is called the “Red-tape challenge”.
The first two reviews have both concluded there was no case for any change in the overall health and safety framework and both accepted that there was not an “excessive” health and safety culture.
The “red-tape challenge” was set up in 2011 to get businesses to suggest what regulations should be removed. Anyone could leave a suggestion on a website, yet the overwhelming majority called for no change to the existing regulations.
The government has said that we do not need any more regulation because Britain is one of the safest countries in the world. This is rubbish. According to the Health and Safety Risk Index, published in January 2010 the UK’s health and safety performance was 20th out of the 34 OECD (developed) nations.
In 1974 the number of regulations on health and safety was 462. In April 2009 the number was 248. This means we have 46 per cent less regulation than 35 years ago.
It is not just the number of regulations that have declined. Over the last five years the HSE has also reduced the number of forms used for collecting information from business from 127 to 54 – a 57.5 per cent reduction.
Regulation should not be seen as a burden on business. It is a responsibility, just as paying taxes is a responsibility, and no business should be able to operate unless it can do so safely.
The government’s attack on health and safety laws destroys the consensus that has existed around health and safety for the last 40 years. It will make it harder to get the laws we need in areas where there are new risks and could lead to Britain having some of the lowest levels of protection in Europe.
However what is also important is the message that the government is giving to employers. It is saying that the laws are unnecessary and do not matter. That health and safety is not important and there is no need for rules and regulations. That will mean that more and more workers will be put at risk, made ill and killed or injured at work. It is also part of a wider attack on workers rights. The government is also trying to make it easier for employers to dismiss workers by making it harder (and more expensive) to take an employer to an employment tribunal. In addition they are making it more difficult to get compensation if workers are injured.
We ask you to support Lancashire workers by calling for:
- No reduction in the legal protection for workers on health and safety. It is not a “burden on business” to protect the lives and health of workers.
- Those who create the risk to be held accountable. We need harsher penalties for those that break the law and a legal duty on those at the top of organisations who make decisions.
- No freedom from inspections and an increase in inspector numbers. Small businesses and the self-employed often create much higher risk. No business should be exempt from inspectors having the right to inspect them, but we also need enough inspectors to do the job.
- Recognition and support for the role that union safety representatives play. Unionised workplaces are safer. It is time the government publicly acknowledged that and did something to practically support health and safety representatives.
- More action to prevent occupational diseases. Tens of thousands of people are killed every year by diseases caused by their work. Five times as many days are taken off through sickness as a result of an illness caused by work than an injury. Yet far less is done to prevent occupational diseases.
Secretary, Lancashire Association of Trades Union Councils (LATUC)