Black Monday Part 1: Business minister writes off the workplace safety of millions

Black Monday Part 1: Business minister writes off the workplace safety of millions

Business Minister Michael Fallon. Photograph: Neil Hall / Reuters

Bad luck if you work in a school, or a shop, or an office or a pub. Why? It’s quite horrifyingly simple – on Monday 10th September, 2012 this Government sacrificed your health and safety at work on the altar of spurious economics and political dogma.

The ‘theory’ underpinning this black day for worker safety is that the aforementioned workplaces are intrinsically safe, or at least not quite as dangerous as dangerous places, like construction sites. What the government is actually doing to improve health and safety on construction sites can be written on the back of a fag packet in big letters, but that’s a different story…

Perhaps the minister hasn’t heard of asbestos? Maybe he thinks people don’t get injured in schools or shops? Maybe he believes that workplace deaths conform to a strict pattern and afflict only known so-called high risk premises? Do fires and explosions only occur in places thought to be dangerous? This attitude begs the question – who is doing the THINKING? 

Hundreds of thousands of businesses are to be exempted from health and safety inspections under the move and legislation will be introduced which ministers say will protect business from “compensation culture” claims.

More on this topic in Black Monday Part 2, but even a newly appointed government minister, like the freshly minted Mr. Fallon, must be aware that Lord Young’s 2010 Report: ‘Common Sense – Common Safety’ , comissioned by David Cameron, dismissed the notion of a compensation culture in the UK as a figment of tabloid journalism.  

More than 3,000 regulations will be scrapped or overhauled, so that shops, offices, pubs and clubs will no longer face “burdensome” health and safety inspections.Officials described it as a “radical” plan to curb red tape.

NO IT ISN’T.

It’s a reactionary plan to curb legitimate claims for compensation arising from workplace injuries.

Hurt and injured people claiming compensation for their injuries are not the cause of this country’s economic woes. Ye gods – does the Government want to turn the clock back 150 years  

The new rules, which will govern both the Health & Safety Executive and local authorities, are intended to be introduced next April.

Firms will only face health and safety inspections if they are operating in higher-risk areas such as construction or if they have an incident or track record of poor performance.

The Government also said it will introduce legislation next month to ensure that businesses will only be held liable for civil damages in health and safety cases if they can be shown to have acted negligently.

Business minister Michael Fallon said the new measures would free businesses from unnecessary red tape and help them focus on creating jobs and growth. He said: “We are all impatient for growth now and we have to do everything we can to lift this economy out of recession it’s been in and back business to create more jobs.”

Responding to union concerns that removing health and safety regulations could put workers at risk, he said: “Let me be very clear, this is only for low risk premises, offices, shops, things like that. This is not where there is risk involved, we are not talking about chemical plants or care homes.”

Predictably, the usual suspects welcomed the moves.

Alexander Ehmann, head of regulatory policy at the Institute of Directors, said: “The Government’s efforts on deregulation are welcome.Excessive regulation costs time and money, both of which businesses would rather spend on developing new products, hiring staff and building up British business both here and abroad.”

However, Richard Jones, head of policy and public affairs at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, said the Government was wrong to point the finger at health and safety, “which is always seen as an easy target”, when it comes to cutting red tape.

He said there were only 200 health and safety regulations so they were only a tiny percentage of the 3,000 total regulations.

Labour’s shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna rubbished the Government’s move as a “gimmick” that would not help the UK out of the double dip recession.

“If you talk to business about what is the main problem they face, it is a lack of demand, it is not regulation.”

Unfortunately this Government only talks to its friends in industry, like when the PM invited the insurance companies to Number 10 in February this year to hear their whingeings and bleatings about the cost of paying compensation to hurt and injured people and their families.