Workers Memorial Day: ‘Remember the dead – fight for the living.’

With Workers’ Memorial Day (28th April) approaching, Partner Marcus Weatherby is critical of the Government’s current misguided attack on what it sees as ‘excessive health and safety provision’…   

Workers’ Memorial Day is an opportunity to highlight the preventable nature of most workplace accidents and ill health, and to promote safety campaigns and union organisation in the fight for improvements in workplace safety.

Pattinson and Brewer has a proud heritage of winning compensation for claimants since 1891. Since our foundation we have been a constant partner for trade unions in their battles to improve safety conditions for workers. We have connections going back to the Taff Vale case in 1901 (which was a central cause in the establishment of the UK Labour Party) and to the formation of the TGWU (now Unite) in 1921.

The need to demonstrate the preventable nature of accidents has never been higher, especially with the Government attack on red tape, excessive health and safety and the supposed ‘culture of compensation’.

The Government is pedalling the idea that there is an excessive health and safety culture, which is an albatross around the neck of British businesses. As a result, they’re proposing to abolish large numbers of health and safety regulations. The Government’s intention is that health and safety regulations will be reduced by a third – rising to over a half – over the next three years. The current consultation on this reduction ends on 4 July, 2012.

Does Health and Safety in the UK work?

Yes. The EU statistical authority, Eurostat, reveals that the fatal injury rate for Great Britain is consistently one of the lowest in Europe, and has been the lowest amongst the five largest EU countries for a six-year period.

The Lofstedt report itself states that health and safety regulations are broadly accepted to have been an important contributory factor in safer workplaces. With the evidence showing that legislation is the primary driver for organisations to initiate changes to improve management of health and safety .

Is there any evidence that health and safety imposes a financial restriction on businesses?

Unsurprisingly it seems that it is accidents and ill health that cost businesses, and not a preoccupation with health and safety. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health says work-related accidents and ill health cost businesses nearly £8 billion a year, with absenteeism, low productivity and legal bills among the ‘financial hits’. The Lofstedt report cites 4.4 million working days lost due to workplace injuries and ‘a massive 22.1 million lost due to work-related ill health during 2010/11.

There is no objective evidence of the financial effect of red tape, although there are estimates. The British Chamber of Commerce argues that the current raft of health and safety regulations ‘distracts businesses from driving economic growth and creating employment.

However, the idea that business battles against a tide of risk assessment forms every year is not one that the evidence seems to support. 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 from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on how to do them. Over time the assessments have become well established and familiar.

It is worth looking broadly at what the HSE states employers are broadly required to do [See 5 steps to risk assessment 6/11]:

  • Ascertain the dangers.
  • Determine who can be harmed at work and how this would happen.
  • Evaluate what can be done to counter it.
  • Record the precautions as part of the policy and implement.
  • Carry out a review.

Onerous? Or merely what you hoped employers would be doing anyway?

Will removing legislation make things safer?

Tinkering with the legislation dealing with accident reportage, and reducing HSE funding, has meant that there will be a set of comforting statistics.

The Government’s recent changes to the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) will mean that employers only have to report injuries that keep workers away from their normal duties for more than seven consecutive days – an increase from the previous three-day reporting period. We should therefore expect a reduction in the number of accidents reported. The HSE estimates there will, as a result, be 30,000 fewer reports a year.

The watchdog of health and safety, the HSE, has also been ‘restructured’. The HSE is facing reductions in its government funding by 35% for the period to 2015. Since 2012 the HSE now runs a telephone service for reporting fatal and major injuries only – with all other reports having to be done online. Inspections are to be focused on those industries deemed to be ‘key major hazard industries’, with a view to reducing the number of proactive inspections by 11,000 a year.

The new regime will inevitably result in less reporting of accidents. The reduction in the number of accidents reported will no doubt suggest that an improvement in health and safety has occurred. The reality will be that health and safety will have been relegated below profit.

At a time when businesses are cutting back to deal with the financial effects of the recession, this is the wrong message to be sending out.

A recent survey of 600 heath and safety professionals found that the economic climate has already taken its toll on the safety sector. 41% have seen their budget cut this year, and 45% claiming that their company did not see health and safety as ‘business critical’ during a recession.

It is the change in emphasis, and the tacit government approval of the change, that will do the most damage. The overwhelming tone of the deregulation is that health and safety assessment has been getting in the way of business when there is in fact no evidence that this is the case.

Accordingly we anticipate an increase in injuries at work even if the recorded figures do not suggest it.

This will come at a time when major changes to welfare entitlement in the now approved Welfare Reform Act will affect the benefit entitlement of workers should injury prevent them from continuing in employment. Abolition of legal aid for welfare and benefit cases under the forthcoming LASPO bill (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill 2010-12) will also mean that if they are wrongly assessed by the state, they will be less able to fight any unjust decision.

There are two million people in the UK who have an illness or injury caused by their work, the vast majority of which could have been prevented had their employer taken the correct safety precautions.

Never before has the slogan for Workers Memorial day ‘Remember the dead – fight for the living’ been more appropriate.

For a list of activities and demonstrations on Workers Memorial day see :

http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/tuc-20489-f0.cfm

To support the fight against the LASPO bill, see:

http://www.accesstojusticeactiongroup.co.uk/home/lobby-your-mp

http://www.pattinsonbrewer.co.uk/


 


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