DWP on safety: Spinning out of Control
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.