Posts Tagged ‘Health and Safety Legislation’

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.

 

 

The Torygraph Pours Scorn on Corbyn at Glastonbury Festival

June 28, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn was one of the guests at the Glastonbury Festival last week, introduced on stage by no less a man than Michael Eavis himself. Corbyn gave a roaring, impassioned speech, inveighing against the Tories’ attack on the welfare state, their privatisation of the NHS, and their forcing of millions into poverty. If I recall correctly, he also mentioned how the Grenfell Tower fire was a direct result of decades of Tory policies dismantling health and safety legislation for the benefit of private landlords. He ended with a rousing passage from Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy, urging the British people to rise up ‘like lions’ ‘for ye are many, they are few.’

And the crowd loved it. They cheered, and there were spontaneous chants of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!’ This graphically showed the popularity of the Labour leader, at least with a section of the young and not-so young people, who can afford to go to Glastonbury.

Needless to say, the Tory press hated it. The I newspaper yesterday carried a quote from the Telegraph, in which they moaned that it was ‘the day that Glastonbury died’, Eavis was going to lose tens of thousands of visitors and supporters of his festival by inviting Jeremy Corbyn on, and what did it say about the Labour party anyway, when it’s leader was cheered by metropolitan liberals able to afford the exorbitant entrance and camping fees.

Actually, it says that the countercultural spirit of Glastonbury is alive and well, that Eavis has always been against at least some of the policies the Tories espouse, and that the Tories contemplating the spectacle of the young and hip supporting Labour are nervous about their own future.

Michael Eavis was awarded an honorary doctorate or degree by Bristol university at their graduation ceremony a few years ago. Bristol uni is rather peculiar in the conduct of these ceremonies. While other universities and colleges allow the person awarded the degree to make a speech themselves, at Bristol it’s done a special orator. The orator describes their life and career, while the person being so honoured stands by, smilingly politely, until they are finally given the scroll, when they say ‘thank you’. The orator in his speech for Eavis said that he was basically conservative, who shared the work ethic.

Well, perhaps, but I can remember the 80s, when the local Tories down in Glastonbury hated him, the hippies and the other denizens of Britain’s counter and alternative cultures, who turned up to the pop festival with a passion. They were trying to get the festival banned at one point, citing the nuisance and frequent drugs violations.

As for Eavis himself, I can remember him appearing in an edition of the Bristol Evening Post, in which he made it very clear what he thought about Reagan and Thatcher’s new cold war, and the horrors committed in Nicaragua by Fascist death squads trained, equipped and backed by Reagan’s administration. Accompanying the article was a picture of him wearing a T-shirt with the slogan ‘How Can I Relax with Ray-Gun on the Button?’, which mixed a reference to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s notorious disc, which had been banned by the Beeb, with the American president’s ‘Star Wars’ programme for a space-based anti-missile system.

As for the hip young dudes cheering Corbyn on, whom the Torygraph sneered at as ‘metropolitan liberals’, this is the crowd the Tories, and Tory organs like the Telegraph, would desperately like to appeal to. These are wealthy people with the kind of disposable incomes newspaper advertisers salivate over. These people also tend to be tech-savvy, which is why the Torygraph imported an American technology guru a few years ago to try and make the rag appeal more to a generation increasingly turning to the Internet for their news and views.

It didn’t work. Sales continued to decline, along with the quality of the newspaper as a whole as cuts were made to provide the savings needed to fund the guru’s wild and fanciful ideas. The young and the hip are out there, but they ain’t reading the Torygraph.

And their also increasingly not joining or supporting the Tory party. Recent polls have shown that the majority of young people favour Labour, while the Tories are strongest amongst the over fifties. For any party or other social group to survive, it has to appeal to young people as well as those of more mature years. And the Tories aren’t.

Lobster a little while ago carried a piece on the current state of the Tory party, which reported that a very large number of local constituency parties really exist in name only or have very, very few members. The membership is increasingly elderly, and several local parties responded to inquiries by saying that they were closed to new members. In short, the Tory party, which was at one time easily Britain’s largest party with a membership of 2 1/2 million, is dying as a mass party. Lobster concluded that it was being kept alive, and given millions in funding, mainly by American hedge fund managers in London. It should be said here that the party is also benefiting from extremely wealthy donors elsewhere in industry, and the very vocal support of press barons like Murdoch, Rothermere, and the weirdo Barclay Twins.

The Telegraph’s attitude also seems somewhat hypocritical considering the attitude of the press to the appointment of a Conservative editor of Rolling Stone magazine way back in the 1990s. This young woman praised George Bush senior, stating that he ‘really rocks’. This caused a murmur of astonishment amongst the media, amazed at how a countercultural pop icon could embrace one of the very people the founders of the magazine would have been marching against back in the ’60s and ’70s. The magazine was accused of selling out. It responded by replying that it hadn’t, it had ‘merely won the revolution’.

Nah. It had sold out. As one of the French philosophers – Guy Debord? – wrote in The Society of the Spectacle, capitalism survives by taking over radical protest movements, and cutting out any genuinely radical content or meaning they had, and then turning them into mere spectacles. This is what had happened to Rolling Stone. And as Glastonbury became increasingly respectable and expensive in the 1990s, there were fears that it was going to go the same way too, at least amongst some of the people writing in the small press culture that thrived before the advent of the internet.

I don’t remember the Torygraph saying that Rolling Stone had ‘died’ by appointing a deep-dyed Republican as its editor. And I imagine that it would have been highly excited if Eavis had called on Theresa May to appear on stage. Now that would have killed Glastonbury. But the appearance of Corbyn on stage shows that Glastonbury hasn’t yet become a cosy item of bourgeois entertainment.

Corbyn is one of the most genuinely countercultural politicians in decades. He stands for policies which the political establishment, including the Blairites in the Labour party itself, loathe and despise. Until a few weeks before the election, all the papers were running very negative stories about him, as well as much of the TV news, including the Beeb. Corbyn is a threat to the free trade policies that the Thatcherite political establishment and media heartily support, and so they attack him every way they can.

But as the mainstream media attacks him, ordinary people support him. Much of the support for Jeremy Corbyn came from ordinary people on blogs and vlogs outside corporate control. Counterpunch a week or so ago carried an interview with one of the ladies behind Corbyn’s campaign in London. She described how they set up apps for mobile phones, to show volunteers for his election campaign which wards were marginal so they could canvas for him in those vital areas. She said that they had so many people volunteering that they had to turn some away.

And youth culture was part of this mass movement. Kids were mixing his speeches in with the music they listened to on their ipods, so that there were movements like ‘Grime4Corbyn’. Again, this was being done spontaneously, outside party and corporate control, by ordinary kids responding to his inspiring message.

Glastonbury is now very expensive, and unaffordable to very many of the people that Corbyn represents. But this does not mean that it is only wealthy metropolitan liberals who support him, or that the well-heeled souls, who sang his praises at Glastonbury at the weekend were somehow fake for doing so ‘champagne socialists’, in Thatcher’s hackneyed phrase. Corbyn also has solid working class backing and the support of the young. He is genuinely countercultural, and so had every right to stand on stage.

And he certainly does share some of the ideals of Michael Eavis himself, at least in the ’80s. As I said, Eavis made his opposition to American imperialism and war-mongering very plain. Corbyn has said that he intends to keep Trident, but in other respects he is a profound voice for peace. There is a minister for peace and disarmament in his shadow cabinet, and he has said that he intends to make this a proper ministerial position.

And so Corbyn stood in Glastonbury, with the support of the crowd. A crowd which the Tory party hoped would support them. They didn’t, and it’s frightened them. So all they can do now is moan and sneer.

OBR Starts Scaremongering over Projected Cost of NHS over Next Half Century

January 18, 2017

Mike put up a story today about a report from the OBR claiming that the NHS’ budget will have to be increased by £88 bn over the next 50 years. They claim that in order to meet those costs, other parts of the government’s budget would have to be cut. Indeed, the amount of money that would need to be spent on the NHS to meet demand would make the budget generally ‘unsustainable’, according to the report Mike quotes from the Graoniad.

Mike calls this scaremongering, and points out that there are plenty of ways costs could be reduced to acceptable and sustainable levels.

* Like making sure people have access to cheap drugs. Again, this is not something the Tories want. A few years ago, their Health Minister, Alistair Burt, actually filibustered a bill that would have allowed the government to seek new licences on unpatented drugs that would have allowed the NHS to purchase cheaper medicines. As Mike points out, Burt’s obstructive speechifying in parliament added millions to the NHS bill then. All to benefit big pharma against the NHS and the people of this country. Even those with private medical coverage.

* The pressure on beds through bed-blocking by healthy people with nowhere else to go could be solved through more funding for care homes, and raising the social care budget so that family members could care for elderly relatives at home.

* Some healthcare costs will be reduced through ordinary progress, as people become better aware of the risks to their health, and take care to avoid them.

* The costs of healthcare could also be cut by actually reversing the Tories’ attacks on health and safety legislation. Mike also points out that workers’ health can be improved by paying them better, as low pay causes more stress, and damages their mental and physical health. But as he also points out, Conservative supporting bosses get very upset if you point that out to them.

* And you can also cut £22 billion from the NHS’ budget by getting rid of the all the contracts given to private healthcare companies.

Mike states that all that’s needed is the will to try doing things in a better way. Starting by kicking out May and the Tories.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/01/18/new-scaremongering-over-cost-of-nhs-ignores-vast-possibilities-for-change/

There’s a lot more that could be said here, not least about the OBR itself. I’ve got a feeling it was established by the Tories. Whoever set it up, I am sure that the Office of Budgetary Responsibility was set up to ‘lock-in’ the cuts to government spending by providing a spurious statistical legitimacy to the neoliberal doctrine of limiting government expenditure to the bare minimum. You can see it in the departments’ very name: Budgetary Responsibility. Not ‘Fiscal Effectiveness’ or ‘Efficiency’, but ‘Budgetary Responsibility’. It’s to reinforce the message that spending as little as possible of taxpayers’ money is ‘responsible’. It’s part of the Tory refrain that they represent ‘responsible’ government expenditure as opposed to ‘high-spending’ Labour. Which is a colossal myth. Under the Labour party, as Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis make clear in their NHS-SOS, the NHS was in budget.

This piece by the OBR also comes after the Tories have been rightly under attack for the crisis in the English NHS.

It therefore looks to me very like a Tory department issuing a very dubious budgetary speculation in order to justify the Tory round of cuts and privatisation. My calls it scaremongering, and also says at the beginning of his article that it’s trying to scare people into accepting the health service’s privatisation. He also makes clear that if that’s what they’re trying to do, they’ll have to try a lot harder.

Mike also wonders how much private healthcare will also cost by 2067.

That’s a very good question.

There is now a considerable movement for single-payer health care now in America, despite the intention of the Orange Nazi who’s going to be their next president to repeal Obamacare, and privatise social security, Medicare and Medicaid. The reason’s simple. Private healthcare in America is now massively expensive. It’s now so expensive that about a fifth of Americans can’t afford it. It also costs the American government far more than the NHS. In fact, if you look at the stats, America is one of the most expensive healthcare systems in the developed world.

And one of the most cost-efficient is the NHS. Or was, before Cameron and May took over and started to wreck it.

And in fact, if you look at the comparative stats, you find that Britain spent far less on its health service than other European countries. That was deliberate. It was under the Tories, once again, that Britain stopped funding our state healthcare at the same rate the Europeans funded theirs. Because the Tories have always hated spending money on the NHS.

You saw it a couple of years after the Health Service was introduced by Nye Bevan. A group of right-wing Tory MPs then got up on their hind legs to start shouting that the NHS was too expensive for the country. They lost the argument, but obviously never went away. They came back under Thatcher, and have been running the NHS down ever since.

And it’s because American healthcare is so expensive, that the private healthcare companies have crossed the Atlantic are trying to have our state healthcare privatised. Put simply, they’re having difficulty squeezing any more out of the Americans. So they came over here, and started whispering their blandishments to Tony Blair, who never met a rich, dodgy businessman he didn’t like. They didn’t need to do much persuading for the Tories, as the party of the rich, mendacious and exploitative was already well stocked with people, who stood to make a killing if the NHS was privatised.

And as private healthcare means that unless you can pay, you die, killing is precisely the right word.

This load of stats is sheer propaganda and scaremongering by a Tory-staffed government department for the Tories. Ignore it.

Work to rebuild the NHS.

Kick out the Tories.

May and Hunt must resign. Now!

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.

Health and Safety Legislation and the Fall in Fatal Accidents at Work

March 15, 2016

One of the Tories’ favourite targets, shared with positive zeal by the right-wing press, is health and safety legislation. This they claim is a terrible burden on businesses, and has resulted in stupid, nonsensical rulings against even the most harmless and trivial pastimes. A few years ago, if you can remember that far back, there were reports that children were now no longer able to play conkers in school, unless they wore safety goggles.

Presumably the health and safety legislation being attacked is the body of legislation, which began with the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974, which stipulated that every firm must draw up rules governing safety at work, and brought a further eight million workers under the protection of the new regulations. This did have a significant effect in cutting down accidents at work, despite the fact that during the 1980s many firms decided to cut corners and failed to observe much of it during the depression. Eric Hopkins in his book, The Rise and Decline of the English Working Classes, quotes the Chief Inspector’s Report of 1985 on this:

Economic pressures have adversely affected working conditions in many premises, and an increase in the numbers of small firms and sub-contracting businesses, some of which have standards of safety and health which fall well below … what is acceptable, has added to the Inspectorate’s problems of source deployment. the recession has led many employers to economise on safety. Some firms have made safety officers redundant and passed responsibility for safety to personnel officers, line management or security officers with little or no experience in safety matters. (Pp. 210-211).

He also gives the comparative statistics for fatal accidents at work between 1975 and 1985. These are as follows.

1975
Factories … 231.
Construction… 181.
Docks and Warehouses…15
Total … 254.

1985
Manufacturing … 100
Construction … 95
Service Industries … 59
Total… 427

Mike over at Vox Political reported the other day that the Tories are planning to shift the burden of proof for accidents at work from the company to the victims, in order to cut down on the number of people successfully suing their employers for industrial injuries.

As this shows, the Health and Safety Legislation has succeed in cutting down on the number of accidents at work. If the Tories succeed in getting it scrapped or significantly reduced, it will mean more workers will suffer injury and permanent disability at work, without any chance of recompense from the guilty employers.