From the TUC

Government fails end of term health and safety report.

31 Mar 2015, By

The Government has published a “report book” on its reform of health and safety legislation over the past five years. It proudly boasts that it has reduced the number of regulations by 50%, and claims that:

Business response to these reforms has been strongly positive and they have been achieved without reducing health and safety protection for workers.” Not once of course does it say what they have done to actually reduce the number of injuries and illnesses (both of which are increasing).

In fact the previous Labour Government claimed to have reduced health and safety regulation by over 70%. They started the process, which this government has continued, of looking at old out of date regulations and repealing them. Nothing wrong with that, but if you remove laws that no longer applied, you are not exactly reducing any “burdens” on business, it is simply good housekeeping. Generally unions have had no problems when 80 year old regulations on celluloid etc., were repealed. It makes it easier for everyone.

However this Government has gone a lot further than this. They have also got rid of, or changed, a number of useful ones. Most recently we had the fiasco over the self-employed, where they tried to exempt almost all self-employed and, after a backlash, finally ended up with something completely different that virtually no-one understands. We also saw changes to the reporting requirements. Previously employers had to record certain injuries which led to someone being unable to do their full job if it lasted more than three days. They then have to report it to the HSE. Now, they still have to record it after three days, but only report it after seven days have passed, meaning that they have to keep two lots of records. This is meant to help employers how? And of course there was the removal of the Code of Practice on the Management regulations. These are one of the most important of all the health and safety regulations as they deal with risk assessment. The Code of Practice was widely used, and although employers, unions and safety professionals all wanted to keep a code, it was abolished. There are lots of other examples of really bad decisions that have been made by this government, but you can read about them all here.

What really annoys me however is the claim that the changes “have been achieved without reducing health and safety protection for workers.” On what do they base that? How can they make that claim when no-one has actually looked at whether this is the case. The Government report gives no evidence to back it up, and it is clearly nonsense. Removing self-employed people from the coverage from the protection of the Health and Safety at Work Act in relation to their own safety is clearly a reduction in protection, as is the huge cut in inspection activity (over 95% in the local authority-enforced sector). At no time has the Government asked anyone to assess the effect of the changes on workers. Instead they crow about the benefit to business. Well health and safety laws are not there to protect business, they are there to protect workers. While businesses that embrace good health and safety can see big benefits, that is not the purpose of regulation.

We have a government that is all too obsessed with the idea that regulation to protect people is somehow inherently bad. Well, you can’t use moral concepts like good and bad to describe regulation. Either a regulation works or it doesn’t. The TUC has no problem with getting rid of regulations that are of no use, but at no time in the past five years has that been the criteria the Government has used. The principle they have followed is whether they can reduce burdens on business and, to do that, how much regulation can they repeal, and damn the consequences.

In the 1970s there was a pretty dire TV programme called “Never mind the quality – feel the width”, and that really sums up the Government’s approach to health and safety regulation. It is about cutting the number, regardless of whether it is doing anything to improve the position in the workplace. What we need instead is a regulatory agenda based on evidence of whether it is going to reduce the number of people killed, injured or made ill as a result of their work.