Bud Hudspith argues that the government is understating the damage caused by bad health and safety, and that cutting the regulations will only hurt more.
Bud Hudspith is the national H&S adviser for Unite
Everyone at work needs to be worried for their health and safety in 2012, and life under the current government is certainly going to get more difficult.
Despite the evidence-based assurances of Professor Lofstedt in his review of UK health and safety law, the government is hell bent on reducing health and safety regulation and health and safety standards. The government strategy, built on myth and dogma, puts workers at greater risk.
It will lead to fewer inspections, less enforcement and more deaths, injuries and ill-health at work.
Unite has been very critical of the annual statistics on deaths at work, since these are only the tip of the iceberg, and represent a massive underestimate of the true problem. Using the official statistics enables the government to suggest that UK health and safety is better than everywhere else, and provides an excuse, albeit a very thin excuse, for cutting the health and safety responsibilities of UK employers.
This is a complete myth, since the real number of people killed in work-related incidents each year is probably closer to 1400, over eight times the official HSE figure for 2011 of 171.
• The estimated 1,000 who are killed in road traffic incidents involving ‘at work’ vehicles;
• The 95 members of the public killed by work activities;
• An estimated 30 killed in coastal waters or in aircraft incidents;
• The 100-250 suicides attributed to work-related stress.
The number of occupational illnesses deaths could be as many as 50,000:
• 12 per cent of all cancer deaths are likely to be work-related which suggests 18,000 deaths, compared to the HSE’s 6,000;
• 15-20 per cent of obstructive lung disease deaths are work related, which is about 6,000 deaths;
• 20 per cent of heart disease deaths are work-related, which is about 20,000;
• Plus about 6,000 deaths from all other work-related causes including restrictive respiratory diseases.
Fewer inspectors will mean more pressure on trade union health and safety organisation and the work of safety representatives.
In its sadly familiar mealy-mouthed way, the government has accepted the Lofstedt review, which says the regulatory regime is substantially correct, and then used it as the springboard for mass deregulation of health and safety. The government plans to go much further in attacking health and safety at work than the evidence from Lofstedt, and a host of previous reviews, merits.
Lofstedt concluded that there is
‘No case for radically altering health and safety legislation’.
He also said that failing to tackle
“work-related ill health and injury is itself a considerable burden on business … and that the regulatory regime offers vital protection to employees and the public.”
Yet, under the spurious cloak of cutting alleged ‘red tape’ for employers, the government is set to embark on a series of cuts to health and safety law that will endanger the lives and health of the 29 million Britons in the workplace.
All of this is confirmed by the latest outburst from the Prime Minister which reveals how serious the current government is about undermining the health and safety of workers, in spite of overwhelming evidence that reveals how wrong they are. This is just another example of the governments blatant efforts to attack working people.
Many studies have shown that there is no health and safety compensation culture, but the government bangs on about it to try and please the misguided small business lobby. Every cut the government makes to health and safety means another injury, illness or death of a person at work. The government is cutting jobs, cutting pay, cutting pensions and now cutting down people at work.
In spite of this independent review, the government continues on its ideological attack on health and safety in the workplace.
Those who still have a job in 2012 will find that it is more unhealthy and more dangerous than it was before.
Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.
• Top five reasons why you can’t protest (according to the right) – Alex Hern, October 26th 2011
• Gideon’s grotesque attempt to blame workers’ rights for unemployment – Richard Exell, October 3rd 2011
• Grayling’s tabloid pandering gone mad – Ben Mitchell, August 29th 2011
• Health and Safety cuts: Criminal businesses let off the leash – Steve Tombs and David Whyte, March 22nd 2011
• Health and safety laws matter – every day 60 people die due to work – Steve Tombs and David Whyte, October 15th 2010