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Why should it take a workplace disaster to improve working conditions?

Why should it take a workplace disaster to improve working conditions?

ZUMA / Rex Features

In the week we commemorate the lives of workers worldwide who have died in the course of their employment we ask this question of government.

Question.

What links multiple deaths, horrific injuries and destruction on a massive scale?

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The Dave-Vince Code: an alchemist’s cookbook for workplace injury and social injustice.

The Dave-Vince Code: an alchemist's cookbook for workplace injury and social injustice.

Image: Zimbio

‘Occult futurists’, Prime Minister David Cameron (Dave) and Business Secretary Vince Cable (Vince), have together developed a secret plan ‘The Dave-Vince Code’ which is designed to dismantle health and safety legislation in the UK on the spurious grounds that less regulation will free up business to create jobs and grow the economy.

We believe that this Code is an invidious and systematic assault on the right of workers and the general public to expect the highest possible standards of protection from hazards and threats to health and the right to fair compensation if accidents occur. 

We shall lay bare some of the key tenets of the Code as illustrated by the pronoucements of Dave and Vince and demonstrate the flawed thinking and (sometimes) blatant subterfuge employed to bolster party political dogma and the vested interest of the insurance companies.   

 

Dave – 1st Dec 2009, interview in The Telegraph: 

“I want to exempt entire categories of workers and organisations from the fear of litigation or prosecution because of ‘over-the-top’ health and safety rules.”
 
“A Conservative government would amend the Compensation Act to abolish negligence claims for activities where it should be obvious there is a risk-for example, sport and adventure training.”

It is only some organisation’s fear of litigation that keeps many workers safeand we know how often THAT works.

Thus the early clues to the Code were embedded back in 2009. What the then future PM was saying loud and clear was that he would abolish negligence claims for dangerous activities.So, the activities known to be dangerous will remain dangerous,and if you participate in any of them and get injured – tough luck. Tell that to Sarah (see video testimonial: http://www.bonnarandco.com ) 

 

Dave – 10th July 2010, commenting on Lord Young’s report, ‘Common Sense – Common Safety’:

“It is is clear from Lord Young’s work that there was ‘too much intrusion’ into everyday life from health and safety bureaucracy.”
 
“He has done a brilliant job helped by members of the public who have been sending in examples, including a schoolteacher who sent in a ten-page form that has to be filled out when you do any sort of school trip.”

The only thing that is clear is that the PM has swallowed the potion concocted by the insurance industry and tabloid press that has made him immune to rational thinking on health and safety matters and oblivious to the concerns of the public.

 

Dave – 5th Jan 2012 in repsonse to the Lofstedt report, ‘Reclaiming Health & safety For All’:

“Health and safety can too often sound farcial or marginal..so there is something else we are doing: waging war against the excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses.”

“So one of the Coalition’s New Year resolutions is this: kill off the health and safety culture for good. I want 2012 to go down in history not just as Olympics year or Diamond Jubilee year, but the year we banished a lot of this pointless time-wasting from the economy and British life once and for all.”

‘Farcical and marginal’ – ironic or what? Now it’s all out war on the nation’s health and safety infrastructure. An invidious mantra indeed for a nation’s leader…made more invidious by his hi-jacking of Professor Lofstedt’s report and crass manipulation of it’s findings – see below.   

 

Dave – 14th Feb 2012 insurance industry summit, 10 Downing Street:

“I am determined to tackle this damaging compensation culture which has been pushing up premiums. I want to stop trivial claims, free up businesses from the stranglehold of health and safety red tape and look at ways we can bring costs down.”

“The insurance industry plays such an important part in all our lives – it is there to help when we are at our most vulnerable and at greatest need. But I want to ensure that we all do what we can to help people through this difficult time.”

The PM’s psychophantic eulogising of the insurance industry illustrated his total conversion to the ‘dark side’ of the health and safety debate and his refusal to meet with the Unions or APIL, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, confirmed his intention to ignore the legitimate concerns of millions of ordinary people.

Note to PM and ABI – injured people and their families are voters too and they pay insurance premiums.

 Vince – Federation of Small Business Conference, 23 March 2012:

“…But there is another issue that blights your working lives and stands in your way as you strive to grow your business – and that’s the burden of red tape and regulation. So I would like to say a little about that before I close.”

The one true blight of working lives in this country right now is not the ‘red tape’ restricting growth but the coalition’s determination to roll back 175 years of progress and take working conditions back to Victorian Britain. 

Even the entrepreneurial Americans don’t buy the argument that health and safety regulations damage jobs ( http://news.bonnarandco.com/us-health-and-safety-laws-are-good-for-busine). So just what book of alchemist spells are Dave and Vince reading?

Vince – 10th September 2012, announcing ‘bonfire’ of health & safety regulations in parliament:

“Businesses need to focus on creating jobs and growth rather than “being tied up in unnecessary red tape. I’ve listened to those concerns and we’re determined to put common sense back into areas like health and safety, which will reduce costs and fear of burdensome inspections.”

“From April 2013, only companies operating in high risk areas such as construction or with a track record of poor performance will face regular visits from safety inspectors.

By ensuring regulation becomes a last resort, we will create an environment that frees business from the burden of red tape,helping to create the right conditions for recovery and growth in the UK economy

Despite the evidence of decades and a litany of public and private tragedies – Aberfan, Flixborough, Piper Alpha – plus countless unpublicised avoidable accidents, are we to simply believe that cutting back on health and safety regulation will make our economy stronger and our living and working environments safer?

We’d sooner believe that Dave and Vince can create gold from base metal. 

FOOTNOTE TO THE SNEAKY AND THE SCURRILOUS:

How this government is blatantly ignoring its own commissioned research and is actively engaged on a process of regulatory vandalism which WILL result in loss of life, serious injury and long-term health problems for this nation’s workforce.

If anyone is unfortunate enough to get injured at work or to contract an occupational illness they can look forward to a very difficult AND GROSSLY ONE-SIDED fight for justice and fair compensation.

THIS IS AN OUTRAGE AND A SCANDAL, PERPRETATED BY A GOVERNMENT THAT HAS TOTALLY BOUGHT INTO THE DECEITFUL AND VINDICTIVE APPROACH OF THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY IN ITS EFFORTS TO CUT ITS COSTS AND BOOST ITS PROFITS.

IS IT REALLY TOO MUCH TO EXPECT BETTER FROM A GOVERNMENT?

HERE’S THE TRUTH …  

In October 2012 the government announced an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. The new Business minister, Matthew Hancock, told MPs this was based on Professor Löfstedt’s recommendations and would remove the concept of “strict liability” – whereby companies are liable for injuries regardless of negligence if certain health and safety rules are breached.

“The fear of being sued drives businesses to exceed what is required by the criminal law, diverting them from focusing on sensible preventive health and safety management and resulting in unnecessary costs and burdens,” he said.

However, the Löfstedt review did not call for the blanket removal of strict liability. Instead it called for a review of where strict liability was necessary. “These proposals were sneaked into the Bill at the last possible moment after the legislation had been through committee.”
 

What Professor Ragnar Lofstedt really thinks about the removal of strict liability.

‘Reclaiming health & safety for all: a review of progress one year on.’
January 2013

Page 11, paragraph 30:

An amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill 2012-13 is being used by the Government to deliver the recommendation on strict liability. The amendment has proved to be highly controversial and has provoked much debate, including amongst the members of my Advisory Panel.

I have also been lobbied by many interested stakeholders including personal injury law firms and trades unions.
 
My understanding is that the proposed amendment to the Health and Safety at Work Act reverses the current position on civil liability. This means that, unless exceptions apply, claims for compensation in relation to breaches of health and safety legislation will need to prove that the employer has been negligent.

The approach being taken is more far-reaching than I anticipated in my recommendation and, if this amendment becomes law I hope that the Government will carefully monitor the impact to ensure that there are no unforeseen consequences.

What Professor Lofstedt really said about the EU and health & safety legislation in his original report.

Page 4, paragraph 9

Many of the requirements that originate from the EU would probably exist anyway, and many are contributing to improved health and safety outcomes. There is evidence, however, that a minority impose unnecessary costs on business without obvious benefits. 

 

What Professor Lofstedt really said about health and safety regulations in his original report:

Page 7, para graph 2:

The general sweep of requirements set out in health and safety regulation are broadly fit for purpose.

..and in repsonse to government spin:

“I have neither seen nor heard any evidence to suggest that there is a case for radically altering or stripping back current health and safety regulation.” In general the regulations are “fit for purpose.”

What Professor Lofstedt really said about Health & Safety Executive inspections in his original report:

Page 79, paragraph 2.

The evidence suggests that businesses can benefit from and value inspections, with SMEs welcoming the constructive, reasonable advice and guidance that it can provide to help them improve health and safety in the workplace 200. Nearly nine out of ten employers who have had contact with HSE see it as a ‘helpful’ organisation.

 

What Lord Young really said about the ‘compensation culture in ‘Common Sense – Common Safety.’

Page 19:

Britain’s ‘compensation culture’ is fuelled by media stories about individuals receiving large compensation payouts for personal injury claims and by constant adverts in the media offering people non-refundable inducements and the promise of a handsome settlement if they claim.

It places an unnecessary strain on businesses of all sizes, who fear litigation and are subjected to increasingly expensive insurance premiums.

The problem of the compensation culture prevalent in society today is, however, one of perception rather than reality.

 

Written by Andy Thorogood, Business Development Manager, Bonnar Accident Law.

RoSPA ‘hits the nail on the head’ in ground-breaking analysis of accident statistics

In a ground-breaking review of government statistics, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) says the ‘true impact’ of accidents is hidden.

RoSPA 'hits the nail on the head' in ground-breaking analysis of accident statistics

Photo: BBC images

According to the charity, there should be a “fundamental re-appraisal” of government public health priorities with a focus on premature and preventable deaths. On that basis, action to curb accidents should be the number one priority, it says.

Official figures show accidents account for just 2% of deaths in England and Wales – far behind cancer, and heart and respiratory disease, but RoSPA says this conceals the true impact of unintentional injuries in a report drawing on data from the Office for National Statistics to argue for a new approach to public health.

“We are faced with an accident epidemic that’s wiping out people in their prime”

 Tom Mullarkey, Chief Executive, RoSPA

 

The charity calculated the years of life lost as a result of premature death, based on the average number of years which those who died could have been expected to live.

This moved accidents up the priority list, because many victims die young.

RoSPA then filtered out deaths which could not have been prevented.

 

THE KEY FINDING:

RoSPA found that up to the age of 60, accidents were the leading cause of preventable years of life lost, accounting for 23% of the total.

 

 

On the back of this extremely important finding we ask the government and the insurance industry two simple questions…

Where’s the ‘compensation culture’ in these figures?

Why are you intent on dismantling health and safety regulations in the UK when people are dying from preventable accidents?  

RoSPA’s chief executive, Tom Mullarkey, says this is one of the most important findings in its 95-year history.

He says there is a “moral obligation” to prevent people dying before their time.

“We all know about diseases and the resources that are pumped into preventing the deaths they cause, but if only a fraction of that resource was used to prevent accidents we would not be faced, as we are today, with an accident epidemic that’s wiping out people in their prime.”

The charity says schemes to prevent accidents achieve quick results and can generate huge savings for the NHS. It wants extra support and information for people at key moments in their lives – including teenagers, parents and carers of young children, and people over 65.

RoSPA states that in England alone £1bn each year should be set aside to achieve this. The charity estimates that currently less than £1m is spent annually on these schemes.

In a statement, the Department of Health insisted that accident prevention was a key part of its approach to public health….aye, right.

In the light of government attacks on worker health and safety and a general downgrading of risk assessment and accident prevention, we can only hope that RoSPA’s voice is heard above the din of the insurance industry wailing about the costs of saving people’s lives…  

This report should be required reading at Cabinet level and hopefully will be an antidote to the relentless dismantling of the nation’s health and safety regualtions.

Children at greater risk from dangerous dogs than ever before

Children at greater risk from dangerous dogs than ever before

There has been an alarming rise in the number of children needing hospital treatment for dog attacks in the UK in the past 12 months, according to data recently released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre. 

New figures revealed that 6,450 people were admitted in the 12 months to April 2012, up from 6,130 the year before.

Children aged under 10 were the worst-affected group, accounting for one in six of admissions.

Of the 1,040 admissions for this group of youngsters, 494 were for plastic surgery and 278 were to the oral and facial surgery unit.

Among adults the rate of admissions to the trauma and orthopaedic treatment speciality was more than triple that of under-10s.

NHS data released a few months ago revealed dogs bite cases in casualty departments reached 6,097 in the year to the end of March 2011. This is up 94 per cent compared to a decade earlier.

HSCIC chief executive Tim Straughan said: ‘Through further analysis, it is also possible to infer a likely distinction in the type of injuries sustained by child and adult victims of dog bites and strikes; with children having a higher rate of admission to the specialities that carry out plastic and specialist facial surgery.’

Postal workers ‘Bite Back’ with union support

CWU’s Bite Back campaign aims to raise awareness about responsible dog ownership and get new laws in place to protect people who are attacked on private property. The union believes the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is failing to protect both dog owners and attack victims.

Following on from law changes in Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2011 (see our blog post archive for more details), the Welsh Assembly confirmed on July 17 2012 that it will also now legislate to improve dangerous dogs laws…but what about Westminster?

Let’s not hold our breath on this one as the government’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme consultation exercise proposed the following exclusion in its approach to dealing with animal attacks:

‘Where the person has been a victim of an animal attack, unless the animal itself was used deliberately to inflict an injury on that person.’  
Two particularly horrific cases cited were the injuries suffered by postmen in Sheffield and Cambridge, both of whom almost lost limbs while carrying out their duties because of the irresponsibility of dog owners.

The union estimates that some 5,000 postal workers and around 400 telecom engineers are attacked by domestic pets each year – these range from minor injuries to the kind of life-threatening incidents suffered by the postmen in Sheffield and Cambridge.

New Royal Mail figures show that 3,100 attacks were recorded on postal workers between April 2011 and April 2012. In the Sheffield case, the owner was prosecuted and jailed, the man who owned two rottweillers that almost tore off the Cambridge postman’s arm escaped legal sanction altogether.

Dave Joyce, CWU health, safety and environment officer, has spearheaded the CWU’s campaign for legal reform and argues:

“It’s outrageous that hard-working and conscientious people, providing a whole range of vital public services have been, effectively, treated the same as criminal trespassers by the law. We desperately need new laws to protect victims and promote responsible dog ownership to prevent attacks taking place.”

Scottish Postal worker bitten for the 18th time…

Fife postman Garry Haldane needed treatment after being bitten by a dog near Dunfermline High School.

The attack, which took place on 25th August this year, was the 18th time in his 20 year career that Mr. Haldane had been bitten by a dog. He was taken the nearby Queen Margaret Hospital for treatment to puncture wounds and bruising.

He said it was “not acceptable” for postal workers to be subjected to animal attacks. A 51-year-old man has been cautioned and charged.

Mr Haldane, a rep for the Communication Workers Union (CWU), has recently been campaigning for postmen to get better protection from dangerous dogs.

In West Fife, postal workers have compiled a list of addresses of dangerous animals after more than 30 dog attacks on Royal Mail employees were reported in the space of 12 months. That figure was up by 74% on the previous year.

 

Bonnar & Company is very experienced in dealing with dog attack claims and we recently settled a case for a victim involved in a particularly horrifying incident.

If you or a member of your family need legal advice folowing a dog attack, please contact us for free confidential consultation.

 

 

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.