The UK government has announced another review of health and safety law by Professor Lofstedt. This follows on from the Young report and government enforcement cuts of 35% to the HSE and at least 28% to Council EHOs, alongside a 33% cut in proactive inspections.
The government line is that modern work doesn't harm many people and that health and safety is a burden on business, costs employers too much and is stopping job creation. The sad reality is that 1,500 workers are killed every year and up to 50,000 die due to work-related illnesses. We have more work related ill-health now than ever with mental health a growing problem. It is telling that workplace counselling is now the leading workplace 'benefit', eclipsing health insurance for the first time this year.
Is health and safety really over enforced and over bureaucratic? A few well publicised, but often wrong, examples don't tell the full story. There is actually less regulation now than 40 years ago, less paper work, less spot inspection of workplaces (only once in 38 years now), fewer prosecutions: down 50% over 10 years and in 98% of major injuries there is no enforcement action taken against the employer at all.
Workplaces like offices, shops, schools are not ‘nonhazardous’. Of course you are less likely to be killed or physically injured, but these workers still face a range of risks. Musculo-skeletal risks from working with computers and manual handling, violence from customers and pupils, and a whole host of stress-related illnesses caused by bullying and harassment, by long hours and excessive workloads. Risk assessment is proportionate and takes account of the different hazards in these workplaces and doesn’t get or require the same response as higher risk workplaces. That doesn't mean they should get no protection.
Far from costing too much, good health and safety saves employers and the state money. Poor health and safety costs at least £30 billion every year, paid for by the taxpayer. Employers who cause the damage pay less than 25%.
The truth is that workers are made ill and killed every day due to employers failing to manage health and safety and all the evidence shows what works is clear laws, strictly enforced to protect workers from ignorant, non-compliant negligent employers. What also works is trade union organisation and safety representatives which reduce injuries by 50%.
Health and safety is vital so please lobby your MP and join the 'We didn't vote to die at work' Facebook page. You can keep up to date with the campaign there and through Hazards magazine.