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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.    

‘Complete and utter Maudeness’ – Minister creates havoc at home with lethal ‘advice’ on fuel storage.

'Complete and utter Maudeness' - Minister creates havoc at home with lethal 'advice' on fuel storage.

The Telegraph

Before we vilify Francis Maude for truly mind-bogglingly staggering ineptitude, we should consider his pronouncement within the context of the government’s cavalier approach to health & safety legislation in the UK.

Firstly we had Lord Young of Gaffem’s report ‘Common Sense Common Safety’, wherein the noble peer delivered what was expected of him and proferred the idea that we could dispense with much of the UK’s current health & safety regulations.

David Cameron fell on the report like a hungry wolf spying the fatted calf and immediately announced a raft of cut backs and claw backs as he began the process of dismantling 178 years of hard fought progress in worker and public safety in this country.

So far, so bad.

The primary justification for this rush to deregulate is the much-vaunted yet fatally flawed theory that less onerous health & safety regulation means more profit for business.

Then we had Professor Ragnar Lofstedt’s report ‘Reclaiming Health & Safety For All’. Professor Lofstedt has clearly stated that he is not in favour of ‘radical’ reform, apparently contrary to prime minister David Cameron’s attack on the ‘monster’ of health and safety.

The PM referenced Lofstedt’s report from December as he blamed the ‘albatross’ of health and safety legislation for holding back British businesses but the King’s College academic, insisted he had never called for significant changes to legal policy and did not believe in a compensation culture.

When asked if he was worried his report could be hijacked for political purposes, he said: ‘I am concerned about it. I am concerned my review could be misused.’

So bad, so far…

‘The scores on the doors’ : Reports delivered – 2. ‘Common Sense’ health & safety strategy in the UK – 0.

The second assumption underpinning the current madness is the notion that most day to day activities and even most workplaces are intrinsically safe and thus we only require a light touch on the regulation tiller to ensure our safety as we go about our daily lives…

and this is where Francis Maude comes in.

MINISTER CREATES HAVOC AT HOME WITH LETHAL ADVICE ON FUEL STORAGE AS WOMAN SUFFERS 40% BURNS IN JERRY CAN FIRE.

Fire officers have warned the public not to store petrol in their home after a woman suffered 40 per cent burns in a fire started by petrol she was transferring between containers, following advice from government minister Francis Maude that motorists should consider storing fuel in anticipation of a tanker drivers’ strike.

The victim, 46-year-old Diane Hill, was badly injured after her clothes caught fire while decanting the fuel from one container into another at her home on York. A fire service spokesman said:

‘She was using her cooker at the same time as pouring petrol from one container to another using a jug after her daughter had asked for some petrol.’

The mother-of-two, from the Acomb area of York, was taken to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, Yorks while two firefighters wearing breathing equipment dealt with the aftermath.

At the time of writing no apology has been received from Mr Maude…but the real bad news is that he probably doesn’t know what he and his government should be apologising for.  

One in five construction workers at risk says UCATT

 

(Photo: UCATT)

In a hard-hitting new report, UCATT, the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, has found that almost one in every five construction workers is now classified as ‘at risk’.

 

Based on a review of the current enforcement regime and interviews with construction workers, ‘The hidden workforce building Britain’ says many are working in ‘slavery like’ conditions, wait in car parks to get work as day labourers and are typically employed in dangerous and unregulated work.

 

The union is calling for the creation of a single independent labour inspectorate, which would cover all industrial sectors.

 

The report argues that this beefed up body, which would police all employment standards, should have sufficient resources to dramatically increase its levels of proactive inspections. UCATT says this would ‘ensure that there is a major crackdown on exploitative employers.

 

The union’s acting general secretary, George Guy, commented: ‘It is time that government and employers accept the unpalatable truths about how the construction industry operates. Only effective regulation by a strong enforcement regime will end exploitation in the construction industry.’

 

Given this government’s attitude towards health and safety in the UK workplace and the current economic climate there is no chance of a new regulatory body being set up to monitor the construction industry labour force. This means that everyone with an interest in construction worker safety has to be extra vigilant and relentlessly ‘on guard’ to check for construction site dangers and hazards to worker’s health.

 

HSE please take note…

 

Bonnar & Company specialises in helping construction workers achieve justice and fair compensation for injury and industrial illness caused by working on site. We work exclusively on behalf of direct employees, sub-contractors, the self- employed and apprentices.

US health and safety laws are good for business

Workplace health and safety regulations not only save lives, they benefit the economy, the USA’s top safety official said yesterday.

In stark contrast to the UK’s government’s stance on health and safety in the workplace, David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), said:

‘Despite concerns about the effect of regulation on American business, there is clear evidence that OSHA’s commonsense regulations have made working conditions in this country today far safer than 40 years ago when the agency was created, while at the same time protecting American jobs.

The truth is that OSHA standards don’t kill jobs. They stop jobs from killing workers. OSHA standards don’t just prevent worker injuries and illnesses. They also drive technological innovation, making industries more competitive.’

Speaking ahead of a Republican-driven formal government committee hearing ‘Investigating OSHA’s regulatory agenda and its impact on job creation’, Dr Michaels said: ‘Many OSHA standards cost little and easily can be adopted by employers with nominal effect on the bottom line. OSHA, by law and by practice, always looks at both the overall cost of compliance with a proposed regulation and at the expected benefits. The evidence shows that OSHA generally overestimates the cost of its standards.

Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment, comparing the predicted and actual costs of eight OSHA regulations, found that in almost all cases ‘industries that were most affected achieved compliance straightforwardly, and largely avoided the destructive economic effects’ that they feared.’

He concluded ‘OSHA’s job isn’t over. More than 3 million workers in America are injured every year. Every day 12 workers die on the job. OSHA’s commonsense regulations are helping to drive these numbers down and, at the same time, helping American businesses modernise and compete in the global economy.’

At a time workplace safety campaigners are on the back foot in the UK, we implore the government to take heed of the US example and in its own words, apply ‘commonsense to common safety’, as it purported to do last year when Lord Young was comissioned to review health and safety regulations. 

Unfortunately, when the noble Lord took careful aim at the so-called ‘compensation culture’ and hit the wrong target, the government rushed to congratulate him (as he had produced the justification for draconian budget cuts) and quickly began the systematic dismantling of the regulations that protect workers’ lives and help industry become more – not less – competitive.

Bonnar & Company is very concerned about the dilution of health and safety legislation in the UK and we lend our voice to those campaigning on behalf of worker safety.

Six construction site deaths in one week

Analysis by construction union UCATT has discovered that six construction workers were killed in the week that the Government announced it was slashing funding to the Health and Safety Executive by 35%.

With fears growing that the cuts will mean that frontline inspectors will be reduced and the recovery in construction resulting in inexperienced companies and workers entering the industry, deaths are likely to increase.

Alan Ritchie, General Secretary of UCATT, said: “Every one of these deaths was an individual tragedy. Each death underlines the dangers faced by construction workers. Sadly these risks will increase if the already low levels of inspections and enforcement activities are reduced.”

The sad statistics are as follows:

Saturday 16th October – a worker was electrocuted on a refurbishment job in Houslow, West London.

Monday 18th October – a 23 year old man, was killed in a trench collapse in Heaton, West Yorkshire.

Thursday 21st October – two workers were killed in Worlington, Suffolk when a wall on a barn conversion collapsed.

Friday 22nd October – a 65 year old man was killed in Bollington near Macclesfield, when a lorry load of bricks crushed him.

Friday 22nd October – a 55 year old man, died after falling from height in Ilkeston, Derbyshire.

The recent deaths coincided with Conservative MP Christopher Chope tabling a Private Members Bill on the back of Lord Young’s report, which would loosen the rules about reporting accidents under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). Research by Liverpool University has found that just 32% of reportable injuries of employees and 12% of reportable injuries suffered by the self-employed were recorded under RIDDOR.

We believe that the construction industry is facing a very difficult time and that worker safety is in danger of being compromised and lives put at risk. It is clear that increased vigilance is necessary to ensure safety at a time when the government is attempting to roll back regulation and weaken the existing laws. A major problem is that accidents are not being reported. Weakening the rules will make the problem worse and will further increase the danger faced by workers…a point which unfortunately has not registered with Lord Young, who seems more interested in cutting corners in the name of cutting costs. 

Bonnar & Company specialises in construction industry accidents. We offer expert legal advice free of charge to direct employees, sub-contractors, the self-employed and apprentices on FREEPHONE 0800 163 978