From the TUC

DWP on safety: Spinning out of Control

26 Jun 2013, By

spinning plates

There has been a very worrying trend in recent years. When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a new initiative, rather than them announcing it, it is now done via a press release from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) along with comments from the Minister.

Nothing wrong with that you might think. Well I have detected a growing tendency to put, what can most politely be called “spin” on it. In fact in a couple of recent examples DWP press releases have been completely misleading or even inaccurate by putting a de-regulatory slant to the release.

The first example was when the DWP announced the launch of the new National Enforcement Code for health and safety inspections. Now this talked about Local Authorities being “banned” from undertaking unnecessary inspections which, according to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, (the professional body for local authority inspectors) is “both inflammatory and misleading”. The CIEH also criticises other parts of the press release which talks of tens of thousands of businesses being removed from H&S inspections saying that, unless this is qualified it gives a completely wrong impression.

Then this week we saw another example. The DWP issued a press release about new guidance on work placement. A pretty important issue considering the number of under-19s killed in the workplace every year, but you would not know this from the press release. It implies that everything is hunky-dory and the problem is “burdensome rules”. In fact some of what the press release says is actually totally wrong. The Skills Minister is quoted as saying that “companies need do no more than they would do for one of their own employees”. This is completely misleading. Under the management regulations they have to do a specific risk assessment if they employ young people because of their lack of awareness of risk, inexperience and immaturity. In fact the whole press release is an exercise in complacency and was pretty much torn to shreds by a press release from Families Against Corporate Killing.

What these two examples show is the level of manipulation and spin that is now going into undermining health and safety.

This is not coming from the HSE, whose press releases are generally factual and of practical use, but from its parent department, the DWP. This represents the politicisation of the civil servants who produce them and introduces a new and sinister element to the debate on regulation. It misrepresents what is actually happening and undermines any actual good that could come out of the initiative.

Perhaps I should not be surprised by this but I am a bit concerned that the media itself has not picked up on how much they are being manipulated and spoon-fed half-truths and distortions.

One Response to DWP on safety: Spinning out of Control

  1. Adam Christie
    Jun 27th 2013, 2:33 pm

    I’m an active member of the National Union of Journalists – but this is a personal observation.

    Thousands of jobs in journalism have been culled in recent years and we are now in the ironic position of having more news outlets than ever before but with less original reporting being carried out than for several decades.

    Journalists are now under such pressure that too few reporters have time to follow up stories that we know should be covered.

    Many of us are very aware of how changes to the way government press releases are issued, how ministers (or their aides) tweet and the monopoly role of PA (the Press Association) wire service in covering and circulating material are not being challenged as thoroughly as we would like.

    We have to fight for sufficient time to do any more (in many circumstances) than copy-and-paste media releases from e-mails to “oontent management” programmes.

    Many us would love to be covering more of these concerns, yet – in regional daily and weekly titles – newsrooms are so understaffed that coroners are complaining that inquests are not being covered and elsewhere the only way that the outcome of court cases gets into the papers is because the police or other enforcement agencies publish comments on their websites.

    Unfortunately, the “commercial model” of making so much material available “free” – which means paid for by advertising – means that constraints on journalism increase. We are pressured into reporting what people “want” rather than what we “need to know” (in a healthy democracy) because s/he who pays the piper calls the tune and … like pictures of cats … it’s what attracts website hits.

    Media consumers are getting what they pay for … and the livelihoods of journalists and the quality of journalism is part of the price. Please don’t just censure “the media” when so many of us (especially NUJ members) are trying to do our very best in difficult circumstances to serve the communities of which we are part.

    Adam Christie
    Leeds