Growth yes – but not at the cost of our safety.
Yesterday the Business Minister, Michael Fallon, launched a consultation on a proposed ‘growth duty’ for regulators. This will require regulators to take into account the impact of their activities on the economic prospects of firms they regulate. According to the announcement, “he proposed ‘growth duty’ will ensure that enforcement activity of these regulators, including the Health and Safety Executive,……..imposes minimum burdens that could hold businesses back, while upholding the highest standards of public protection.”
Now the TUC would be the first to say that they want growth, after all we have been calling for an economic strategy that does just that. We are also against regulations that do not work. However this consultation goes much further than that. It says that the benefits of any regulations to workers or the public must be weighed up against the effect they have on growth.
For years we have had “cost benefit analysis” imposed on regulation-making. This means that the benefit to workers health is already measured against the cost to business. This proposal takes this even further. It says that legislation should actively “promote growth”.
There will be those that say that good health and safety saves business money so we have nothing to worry about. That can be true in that a good safety culture prevents sickness absence and higher insurance costs, but the real cost of the failings of an employer is to the worker, their families and to the state which has to pick up the tab when companies get rid of their injured workers. This is particularly the case with occupational diseases.
The TUC has never depended on the argument that health and safety legislation saves money for businesses because, even if that is true in most cases, legislation should be there if there is a need to protect workers, not just if it is of economic benefit. The bottom line is that no employer should be able to kill or injure their workers – full stop. Not just if it is uneconomical to do so.
The Health and Safety at Work Act does not impose duties if they are affordable, or profitable. It imposes duties “as far as reasonably practical”. If, as is often the case, employers manage to save money as a result, that is great, but it is not the criteria that we should be using.
High quality, safe work will help promote growth, but it is a pleasant addition to the greater benefit of having a happy healthy population. To achieve that we need strong, properly enforced regulation.
If on the other hand we believe that regulation is simply there to promote business and help profitability then we might as well just hand over regulation-setting to the CBI. Mind you, they seen to be almost doing that, as the press release announcing the consultation exercise asks for the views of business, but not of workers or the public. That says it all really.
The consultation can be accessed here.