From the TUC

Health and safety culture? I wish…

05 Jan 2012, By

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.

10 Responses to Health and safety culture? I wish…

  1. Ian Penfold
    Jan 5th 2012, 4:23 pm

    When Mr Cameron talks about sweeping away beaurocracy and red tape he means getting rid of peoples’s rights. Rights to a safe work place, rights to fair treatment in employment, rights to challenge discrimination and rights to a decent pension and welfare system. If he wants to do something positive he should address the compensation culture that hs developed in recent years by no win no fee vultures, a practice which has led to everybody having to treat Health and Safety as a defence against compensation rather than a tool to manage risk.

  2. Andrew Latore
    Jan 5th 2012, 4:35 pm

    I am at the moment reading Professor Lofstedt’s review into health and safety and so far I feel that the goverment don’t like it, thus todays out burst from the P.M. If I am understanding the review properly, the main outcome is that some minor changies may be needed, but not the sweeping changies the Tory goverment and thier pay-masters where hoping for. I agree that that some go over the top with the way apply the law,in fact the good professor says in his forward “I have concluded that in general, there is no case for radically altering current health and safety legislation.”
    Andrew Latore
    Unite the Union
    W.M.37N Safety Rep.

  3. Richard Whitehead
    Jan 5th 2012, 4:37 pm

    I work for a company where we try hard to create a safer and healthier workplace with an inherent H & S Culture and it is the people you represent who make it hard work cutting corners and breaking rules

  4. Web links for 4th January 2012 | ToUChstone blog: A public policy blog from the TUC
    Jan 5th 2012, 10:40 pm

    […] Health and safety culture? I wish… Hugh writes on Stronger Unions about David Cameron’s latest plans to ‘kill off’ the UK’s supposed health and safety culture. Related posts (automatically generated): […]

  5. Andrew Sherwood
    Jan 6th 2012, 9:18 am

    It will be interesting to see the governments reaction to an increase in deaths and injuries at work or deaths of people of working age. This fundamentally comes down to the question on the value of human life. If asked I bet “Dave” would say that one life lost is a life lost too many, but this is just an answer. I would like to know how many factories “our Dave” has worked in, how many construction sites he has worked on, he is obviously talking about something he knows nothing about from personal experience. The consequences of accidents and unhealthy working practices cost the county Billions of pounds a year which we pay for through benefits and the NHS.

    This undermining of health and safety by the government will lead to companies not giving H&S the priority it needs, so unsafe practices will become more prevalent.

    The government should be promoting a “Zero Tolerance” attitude to unsafe practices, this will be just another way race to the bottom where responsible employers have to compete on price against unsafe companies in difficult economic times.

  6. Robin Watts
    Jan 6th 2012, 5:33 pm

    In all my years of working with Health & Safety, I have found that working safely, usually is the most efficient & effective way of doing the job. With good training (in whatever job or profession, as well as in risk assessment) the supposedly onerous task of creating Risk Assessments is not difficult, or time consuming.

    The REAL risk here, is if Cameron et al get their way, and create an artificial cap on Damages awards. Then the cowboys who want the job done at any cost, can cut corners with relative impunity, certain in the knowledge that, if their actions cause the ruination of someone’s life, it will only cost them small change.

  7. Rory O’Neill
    Jan 10th 2012, 3:30 pm

    Not all the press have ignored the evidence – Hazards magazine has had plenty to say on this.

    We’ve even made a graphic response – you can see it here:

  8. Dorothy Wright
    Jan 12th 2012, 3:15 pm

    Mr Cameron has without a doubt signed the death warrants of hundreds of workers by his declared war on the protection they have had under H&S regs.My son and many others were not killed because of too much red tape or by honest men who made an honest mistake.He was killed by a low life unscrupulous killer who made money by deliberately taking risks with lives,ignoring the most basic H&S . As he was called ’employer’he was not charged with manslaughter(as he should rightly have been) ,he walked away with a wee fine and no public censure. There are many employers who fit in to this category and the PM has just given the equivalent of a box of matches to an arsonist.He has also discouraged the responsible employers from continuing to spend any time or money protecting their employees lives when they know that many of their competitors won’t bother
    It is a government’s primary duty to protect the lives of their country’s citizens but Cameron has just declared open season on workers.Just watch the death toll rise

  9. karen Thomson
    Jan 12th 2012, 6:11 pm

    So Mr Cameron is openly waging war on safe working practises and health and safety….He is merely publically showing his disdain for the health and lives of workers up and down the country. But lets not kid ourselves that he works in isolation, he doesn’t. There was ample years for the opposition to make things better an they didnt. The term “vote loser” comes to mind when the discussion was about making shareholders and directors criminally responsible for workers lives. I dont need quotes on the pathetic excuse for a law at the moment. My partner Graham Meldrum was killed under a labour government and i had to listen to lies, excuses and a diregard for his life. The day we take responsibility for each other, the day we abandon the “everyman for himself theory of Thatcher,Blair and now Cameron. the day we make those who take the profit take the punishment then we have the greatest deterrant.families like mine and others suffering brutal loss, children losing parents, parents losing their children are a bigger burden though not many are taking up their plight.

  10. Dave Smith
    Jan 30th 2012, 8:38 pm

    Could David Cameron be any more out of touch with real life?
    When the another crane collapses on a building site, will that be because of restrictive safety laws?
    When another office worker is diagnosed with asbestosis, will that be because of a worthless risk assessments?
    When another mother hears the news that her agency worker son has been crushed, is that because of red tape constraining business?
    Or is it because still in 2012, employers often put profit before people?