Health and safety culture? I wish…
Today we have seen a speech from David Cameron and an article by him in the London Evening Standard, saying he wants to end the health and safety culture and the burden on business that it creates. They represent probably the biggest verbal assault on health and safety by a senior politician for many years, which is saying something, given that only last summer the PM was blaming the English riots on our health and safety culture.
I wish we had a health and safety culture in the UK. Instead we have two million people with an illness or injury caused by their work, and every year well over 20,000 people who die prematurely because of their work. The vast majority of these could have been prevented had their employer had taken the correct precautions.
Both the speech and the newspaper article are a response to grumbles from the business lobby and the rantings of right-wing commentators.
Among the claims David Cameron makes are that “an excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses” He also claims that businesses “battle against a tide of risk assessment forms every year”. This just shows how out of touch with the reality of working life the Government is. The truth is that the vast majority of employers never carry out any kind of written risk assessments and, for those that do, there is easy-to-understand advice available on how to do them from the Health and Safety Executive.
The fact that none of the press have so-far challenged his claims, and instead just report them straight or with supporting commentary, shows that if you say something often enough people just accept it, even when it is clearly rubbish.
He also attacks compensation claims in an equally unfounded way. Every government report on the UK’s supposed compensation culture has shown it to be a myth, and in fact claims have been declining over the past decade. Despite this the government seems hell-bent on trying to stop workers injured by their employers’ negligence being able to claim compensation. They are currently trying to put through legislation that will make it much harder for injured workers to get legal support in taking a claim.
It’s clear that Downing Street does not have a clue about what life is like for the millions of ordinary people who work in shops, offices, schools, factories, call centres and other workplaces across the UK. Instead of headline-grabbing claims, what we need is a commitment to protect workers with proper enforcement and penalties against those employers that flout the law and put lives at risk.
However the attacks on our safety and compensation cannot be seen in isolation. It is a part of a wider attack on workers rights more generally. As well as the attacks on our pensions and wage freezes, they are trying to make it easier for employers to sack us and, at the same time, make it more difficult or expensive to take them to an employment tribunal.
In response to these attacks, the TUC is organising a day of action to defend health and safety. It will be held on 28th April, which is International Workers Memorial Day. Within the next few weeks we will be producing a range of materials for use in organising events for the day.