As we reported in our blog earlier this month, “171 workers suffered fatal injuries and a further 115,379 non-fatal injuries were reported to RIDDOR” in 2010/11. There were also around half a million new cases of people suffering from illnesses either caused or made worse by their jobs.
Families have been turned upside down and people’s lives have been changed forever, but long-term trends indicate that, overall, health and safety in the workplace is improving.
That’s not because we’ve stopped using dangerous machinery or working with hazardous materials. It’s not because people somehow have more common sense now than they once did.
It’s largely because employers have been forced to give more attention to the health and safety of their workers by the law, and because those that fail to do so face the prospect of prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the payment of fines and workplace accident compensation.
So workers’ rights campaigners are right to be dismayed by news that the Government is planning to “radically reduce the number of health and safety rules” that businesses have to adhere to.
Prof Ragnar Löfstedt of King’s College London will lead a review of workplace safety laws which will look at how more emphasis can be put on the personal responsibility of individual employees.
At present, workplace accidents and compensation payments cost British businesses around £8 billion a year, and business groups are lobbying the Government to look at ways of reducing this financial burden.
It’s no secret that many people think health and safety regulations have gone too far, with this notion being heavily backed by the tabloid press:
The Daily Mail refers to “Britain’s ‘nannying’ health and safety culture which has held business back for decades.”
The Sun is full of contempt for “BONKERS health and safety laws which tie up small firms in red tape.”
And The Daily Star is no less enthusiastic about the prospect of “Britain’s barmy health and safety laws” being ditched.
Our health and safety record is one of the best in the world, and that’s thanks to the robust regulations we have in place.
But the very real risk here is that the progress that has been made with workplace health and safety in Britain will be reversed, with the profits of businesses taking precedence over the rights of their employees.