Coming to praise health and safety – not to bury it.
Over the last few years I have been worn down by the constant attacks on health and safety from senior politicians. Even the Prime Minister has waded in saying that he is going to “destroy the health and safety culture”. In fact since the sole aim of the government seems to have been to end the (imaginary) burden on business, That was the rationale behind the Lofstedt report, the Young report and the Red Tape Challenge and the constant deregulation that we are facing.
It was therefore a bit of a relief to hear a senior politician make an entire speech about health and safety without mentioning the word “burden” once. In a speech this week to the IOSH conference in London, Stephen Timms, the Shadow Work and Pensions Minister came out and accused the Coalition Government of misusing the Lofstedt Report by going much further than was recommended, He claimed that they were “ignoring the evidence and aiming instead for a few favourable newspaper headlines”.
Now this may be obvious to readers of the “Stronger Unions” blog, but to me it represents quite a sea-change. For years politicians have swallowed the Daily Mail line on health and safety. The Government “Alice in Wonderland” view of health and safety has been unchallenged for too long. With the exception of a couple of Peers and some back-bench Labour MPs, no-one has been arguing our corner, so when someone of the stature of Stephen Timms says things like this, even though it may not be the full shopping list we would want, I begin to feel that perhaps things are changing.
His speech also contained two words that no Government minister has uttered since the election – These were “occupational diseases”. His speech said that this must be the priority. He also welcomed the TUC’s Manifesto “Time for Change”, saying it contained sensible proposals on inspections and occupational health.
So you might not agree with everything Stephen said, or you may wish he had gone further, but it is a welcome start. Let’s hope that a few more senior politicians start praising health and safety, and if we promote the proposals in the TUC manifesto perhaps we can get them taken up in the run up to the next election so that politicians, of all parties, start saying that they will do something to stop the massive toll of injury and illness
Unfortunately while the speech by David Cameron on health and safety made the front page of the papers, the speech by Stephen Timms did not. The message that “Health and Safety is Good” does not sell papers.
You can read his speech here.