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From: The Socialist issue 641, 6 October 2010: Tories turn clock back

Search site for keywords: Health and safety - Health - hse - Construction

Reader's comment

Warning: this government could seriously damage your safety

Lord David Young's report on reforming health and safety laws is due to be released as The Socialist goes to press. Young has said that health and safety has been turned into a 'music hall joke'. A health and safety officer explains that this report, rather than encouraging 'a return to common sense' is more likely to be a serious threat to workers' rights.

Behind all the headline cuts that are hitting workers day after day is a less noticeable attack. Lord Young, a hatchet man in Margaret Thatcher's Tory cabinet, is being used by David Cameron to roll back the advances, made by trade unions, in making workplaces safer.

Bosses have always hated health and safety (H&S); at best they pay lip service to it.

The newspapers try to rubbish it with headlines such as "Clown cannot wear giant shoes due to health and safety" (Daily Telegraph 23 April 2009), "Now pin the tail on the donkey falls victim to health and safety fears" (Daily Mail, 10 May 2010) and "Health and Safety chiefs ban candy floss sticks" (Click Liverpool, 30 May 2010).

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) now produces "myth of the month" to debunk the lies put out by the papers.

The Tories have attacked the "compensation culture", which has reportedly gripped the country. Liberal Democrat Vince Cable will chair the Reducing Regulation Committee and says that "the cost of employing people clearly needs to be reduced"!

As a full time health and safety officer, my time is spent managing how H&S is carried out and informing senior management and supervisors how to keep the company compliant with all H&S law and regulations.

I have to ensure staff and contractors appreciate hazards and workplace risks with regular training and 'permits to work' for dangerous activities.

I have to get the risks identified and actions taken to reduce them, ensuring they are continually re-assessed to check that all agreed actions have been carried out.

When I started at the company it was only 40% compliant with the law. Before that it was only 10% compliant despite having someone in charge of H&S. However, he had no training. Prior to my time, he was replaced by someone with little experience and training. Outside consultants had to be brought in. The H&S culture hadn't changed and compliancy stayed at 40%. This is typical of small to medium size companies.

Due to years of campaigning, unionised workplaces are much safer than the rest. Most employers see H&S as a 'ticking the box' exercise that costs them money. My job is to change that culture.

The safety campaign group Hazards recently reported that workplaces can expect to see a HSE inspector once every 38 years, compared with once every eight years a decade ago. This means that serious criminal safety breaches are going unseen and unchallenged.

The accident rate has fallen as H&S has changed the way we work. No longer do large projects like railways and skyscrapers get measured in terms of how many workers died during construction.

As Thompsons Solicitors points out: "health and safety legislation does protect millions every day from being injured or killed at work. Deaths at work, though still unacceptably high at 151 in the last year, are at an all time low."

HSE figures show that recorded major accidents have fallen in recent years in manufacturing and construction. But in public services they have risen as cutbacks have set in.

Thompsons' statistics show a fall in the number of union-backed personal injury claims of between 19% and 36%. This shows up the lie of Cameron and co who say that we live in a "compensation culture". Government statistics from the Compensation Recovery Unit (CRU) show that employer liability claims have fallen by 69% - from 219,183 in 2000/1 to 78,744 in 2009/10.

Outside of work the same is true, despite the continuous adverts for 'no win no fee' legal firms. The only exceptions to this trend are road traffic accident (RTA) cases. They have risen significantly. RTA cases are 70% of the personal injury market.

So why the hype? The Con-Dem government wants to systematically attack gains made over the last 30 years. Every union member must take up this attack on our rights and fight back against these threats to our health and safety.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
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