Posts Tagged ‘Health and Safety Executive’

The Tory Attacks on Health and Safety Legislation Is Causing Carnage

January 21, 2020

Since almost as long as I can remember, the Tories and their lackeys in the press have been attacking health and safety legislation. The common reasons trotted out are that it is an unnecessary burden to employers, binding them with complicated red tape and costs. More recently the authors of Britannia Unchained and similar works have demanded that such legislation protecting people at work should be rolled back in order to make Britain more competitive against countries in the Developing World, whose workers don’t benefit by such protection. The Tories have tried to make this assault popular by making health and safety legislation seem not only cumbrous, interfering and bureaucratic, but also massively overprotective and silly. Remember all those stories from the Heil years ago claiming that, thanks to the ‘Nanny state’, schools were having to make children wear goggles before playing conkers?

The truth is that when health and safety legislation was introduced in the ’70s, it massively cut down on deaths and injuries among working people – and that’s basically why the Tories would like to get rid of it. They want labour to be cheap and easily disposable, and health and safety laws are an obstacle to that. And the chapter by Hilda Palmer and David Whyte in The Violence of Austerity by Whyte and Vickie Cooper shows exactly how devastating in terms of lives and injuries their attacks on the legislation has been. The government watchdog in charge of overseeing the implementation of the legislation, the Health and Safety Executive, has had its funding cut by 47 per cent. The Tories have also threatened to close it down altogether. In 2013 the government launched a review in order to see whether there was still a need for its functions and if it complied with good governance. The number of staff employed at the executive fell from 3,702 in April 2010 to 2,706 in December 2013. Since the Tories came to power, the number of inspections by the Executive has fallen by a third.

These cuts have resulted in an increase in work-related accidents and injuries, although the authors warn that the government’s figures are almost certainly too low. The real figures are almost certainly higher. They write

Typically, the official ‘headline figure’ published by the HSE records between 140 and 240 deaths per year resulting from sudden injury and 13,000 deaths caused by occupational diseases and illnesses. Those figures, however, only reflect a small proportion of total deaths caused by work. The first figure does not include key categories of deaths cause by work. The Hazards Campaign estimates that seven times more deaths are caused by work incidents than the figure official cited by the HSE. HSE figures exclude work-related road traffic deaths, the workplace deaths recorded in other industries that the HSE does not have formal responsibility for, like the maritime and civil aviation industries, or deaths to members of the public killed by a work activity, such as scaffold collapses or train crashes. A more complete estimate would also include suicides attributed to work related stress. There are approximately 6,000 suicides involving working-age people in the UK each year, and a number of those involve workers driven to despair by work-related stress. In Japan, where work-related suicides are officially recognised and compensated, it is estimated that 5 per cent of suicides are work-related. This estimate, if applied to the UK, would amount to roughly 300 people killed through work related strees.

In sum, a more complete figure of workplace deaths caused by sudden injury, which takes into account all of the above exclusions, would amount to between 1,000 and 1,400 deaths every year, or 3-4 deaths per day. (p. 142).

They also argue that the estimated number of deaths from occupational diseases are also probably grossly underestimated once recent academic studies are taken into account. For example, a 2005 study of the causes of occupational and environmental cancer by Richard Clapp estimated that about 8-16 per cent of all cancer deaths came from occupational cancer. If the mid-range figure of 12 per cent is taken as the number of occupational deaths from cancer, the number of people dying through work-related cancer is 18,000 per year.

A 2005 paper in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine estimated tath 15-20 per cent of all cases of COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – could be work related. Which means 6,000 deaths per year. There is also evidence that up to 20 per cent of all deaths from heart disease are related to conditions at work. This figure adds up to 20,000 deaths per year.

A further conservative estimate that diseases in which work can be a contributory cause, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis and so on comprise a further 6,000 deaths per annum.

They state

All of this adds up to an overall estimate by the Hazards Campaign of up to 50,000 deaths from work-related illness every year – four times the typical HSE estimate of around 13,000 per year. Our contention then, is that the HSE figures grossly underestimate the number of workers whose current working conditions expose them to both the well-known and the newer risk factors, that will produce the workers deaths of the future. (p. 143).

They also make the point that the death toll is still rising, because of toxins to which people may have been exposed to as much as 40 years previously, such as some carcinogens. The EU has estimated that in the 1990s five million workers, or 22 per cent of the working population, were exposed to cancer-causing substances.

They also argue that, thanks to austerity, more workers are suffering under poor working conditions that are damaging their health. These include bullying and harassment, long hours, and the zero hours contracts imposed on 5.5 million workers. The insecurity these contracts cause are linked to stress, heart and circulatory diseases. Workers are also still exposed to dusts and chemicals that cause or contribute to respiratory and heart diseases. They also point to the connection between low paid work and poor safety standards

Low paid work guarantees more than hardship: low pay goes hand in hand with low safety standards. Occupational injuries and diseases such as diabetes and cancer are directly linked to low paid jobs. (p. 144).

They also make the point that the ‘compensation culture’ the Tories have claimed exists is actually a myth. In fact, many workers don’t receive the compensation to which they’re entitled. They write

One of the first moves of the Coalition government, in October 2010, was to appoint Lord Young, a former Cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher, to deliver ‘a Whitehall-wide review of the operation of health and safety laws and the growth of the compensation culture.’ He found absolutely no evidence of this ‘compensation culture’, citing figures which actually showed a downward trend to legal claims, but still demanded action to deal with ‘red tape’. Indeed, figures obtained by Hazards Magazine show that fewer than one in seven people suffering an occupational injury or disease ever receive compensation. For occupational diseases alone, this drops to just one in twenty-six. For most occupational cancers, there is barely any prospect of compensation at all.  (p. 145).

They also show that the government’s division of work into high and low risk is also highly dubious and has resulted in an increase in deaths at work. It was done by Cameron’s government in order to restrict HSE inspections to those jobs considered high risk. But the low risk category is wide, and includes textiles, clothing, footwear, light engineering, road and air transport and docks, electricity generation and the postal and courier services. Hazards Magazine found that 53 per cent of all deaths at work caused by sudden injury were in the low risk sector. Palmer and Whyte state ‘In other words, the government’s fiscal purge of health and safety enforcement has meant abandoning scrutiny of the workplaces where the majority of deaths occur’. (p. 145).

Palmer and Whyte state that this death toll should be a ‘call to arms. to any government, regardless of its political stance. But instead, despite the ‘glaring’ evidence that the red tape is good for workers, employers and the economy, governments have doubled down and insisted that such legislation is an intolerable nuisance. This has reached the point where the HSE doesn’t even both to ask ‘what’s so wrong with red tape anyway?’ The government’s ideological obsession with red tape means that ‘there is no room for argument or evidence that health and safety legislation doesn’t burden business, while its absence carries a high cost to business, workers and the public purse.’

This means that when some rag like the Heil, the Depress, or the Scum claims that health and safety legislation is unnecessary, costly and stifling business, they are lying. And lying to defend an attitude to workplace safety that is murderously dangerous to working people.

But then, as the disabled have found, Tory responsibility for mass injury and death is nothing new.

 

 

Book Defending Health and Safety Legislation

September 14, 2016

Spokesman also publish Safe at Work? Ramazzini versus the Attack on Health and Safety, by Dave Putson, with an introduction by Mark Serwotka. This is a defence of health and safety legislation against the attacks and derision with which it’s now regarded. Putson shows that such legislation comes from the real need to protect people against injury, illness or deaths at work. He also criticises Tories like David Cameron, who’d like to get rid of it all as a burden to private industry. The blurb for it on Spokesman’s website, taken from Serwotka’s introduction, runs

‘This is an important time to write the history of health and safety in the UK, given the near derision that the term now evokes in the media and from the Government. What Dave Putson demonstrates in writing this book is that health and safety, far from being the product of a more litigious society or the political agenda of overbearing bureaucrats, is rooted in human need, protecting people.

This book describes how, over the last 300 years, an evolving body of surveys, research, legal challenges and often tragic experiences led to an emergence of, at first, quite limited protections. Some of these histories will be familiar to the reader, like the match girls and ‘phossy jaw’, but others, like the seminal legal case of Priestley vs Fowler, are not. What the varied and fascinating histories indicate is that health and safety evolved to improve not only the workplace, but also our homes, our communities, our roads, our waterways, and public and environmental health …

Today, there are desperate attempts to reverse those gains. Our Prime Minister echoes the worst of the 19th century’s irresponsible industrialists when he says health and safety is an ‘albatross around the neck of British businesses’. The burden to take reasonable and practical steps to ensure workers can come home at night is what Cameron objects to when he says he wants to “kill off the health and safety culture for good”. Despite this supposedly rampant culture, the HSE records that around 175 people died in 2011/12 from injuries sustained at work while, according to the Hazards campaign, up to 50,000 die each year from work-related illnesses, including 6,000 from occupational cancers.

Workers only got these rights and protections because they organised and fought for them. It is a depressing but familiar tale of history that, today, we need to fight those same battles again. I hope you enjoy reading this detailed, fascinating and engaging history as much as I did. But most importantly, I hope it inspires you to think and to act.’

The situation is all the more urgent, with Theresa May’s government planning to scrap the European Human Rights legislation, and replace it with a British ‘Bill of Rights’, which will be far weaker in protecting British citizens from state surveillance, arrest and detention by the authorities, workers’ rights and so on.
Cameron and his fellow profiteers want to see a cheap labour force with no rights, who they can sack as they please, and force to work in appalling conditions without any legal protection. As an example of how terrible conditions were before the introduction of health and safety legislation, at the time of the First World War more people were killed at work in Britain than in the trenches. That’s the reality, which the Tories and papers like the Daily Fail won’t tell you when they bang on with scare stories about looney councils forcing children to wear goggles while playing conkers or whatever.

Private Eye on the Coalition’s Attempt to Make Prosecutions for Industrial Accident More Difficult

March 13, 2016

Private Eye ran this piece in their issue for 3rd – 16th May 2013. I’m fairly certain Mike over at Vox Political also covered it at the time, so its might be worth going over to his blog and looking at through the posts for that time for more information.

Insult to Injury

David Cameron won applause from the Daily Mail in January last year when he promised “to kill the health and safety culture”. Move on to Spring 2013, and we can see what his pledge means: the coalition is to slash compensation payments to injured employees and the families of dead workers, which have existed since the 19th century.

In a sly manoeuvre, the Tories and Liberal Democrats waited until their Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill had passed the scrutiny of a Commons committee, the slipped in a clause to make it harder for injured men and widowed women (or vice versa) to sue. Henceforth, the coalition told the House of Lords late at night when no one was watching, the burden of proving what caused an accident will fall on the injured worker or the family of the dead.

Peers, who have little experience of the dangers of construction, mining or hands-on agriculture, approved the measure. When the coalition abolished the Agricultural Wages Board it rigged the consultation process (Eyes passim) – but with civil liability for health and safety at work, it topped that dismal achievement and allowed no public consultation whatsoever.

Health and safety inspectors will still be able to prosecute. But as Tom Jones, of Thompsons solicitors said, there are 78,000 civil claims for compensation following accidents at work every year, but only 1,000 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) criminal prosecutions. This change will restrict enforcement in 98.7 per cent of health and safety breaches.

Thompsons represents trade unions, and its numbers may be biased, but even according to the government’s own figures, the “reform” will affect 70,000 cases a year. That’s an awful lot of dead and injured workers.

Lord Hardie, a former Lord Advocate of Scotland, told the Lords: “If this clause remains part of the bill, those who have suffered catastrophic injury, or the widows and families of employees who have been killed, will now have to depend upon state benefits for their maintenance. The financial burden will be transferred to widows, children, disabled people, and to the state. Insurance companies will be the principal beneficiaries”.

The government was not attacking some faddish, modern ‘elf and safety culture. Hardie continued, but a right to swift compensation that goes back to an 1898 court of appeal ruling in England and Wales, and an 1871 decision by Scottish judges. Since then, the law has accepted that all an employee has to prove is that they suffered in a dangerous workplace.

No more, Jones told the Eye. In the past, if you lost a hand in a piece of machinery, you only needed to show that the machine had a faulty guard. No you will have to prove that the employer knew the guard needed replacing or ought to have known. This is a much harder task, made harder still by the government’s cuts to legal aid. In future, insurance companies will be able to spin out a case until the employee’s solicitor has spent the £900 allocated to accidents at work. They will then be able to compel the worker to accept a lower settlement or nothing at all.