Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

April 10, 2015

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General Election: OSH and politics – A brief history of everything

britain-20433_640On 7 May millions of voters will head to the polling stations to vote in the UK General Election. But which party represents workers and businesses best from the point of view of health and safety? The British Safety Council wrote to the major parties in this election to find out more about their plans, if elected, for health and safety. Ahead of their responses, Lauren Applebey looks at where these parties have placed themselves on OSH issues in the past and some of their policies for the future.

Conservatives

In the last five years since the coalition government came into power, health and safety has really come under the spotlight both from the politicians and the media. An era of cutting red tape began with health and safety legislation and guidance being simplified, clarified and stripped down following reports which claimed that “rules and regulations on business had become too great and a damaging compensation culture was stifling innovation and growth.”

Past

It was the Conservative government who introduced ‘the six pack’, a number of statutory instruments in order that the UK could comply with various European directives. The regulations, including manual handling, DSE and PPE, didn’t contain huge amounts of new requirements but ensured everyone could comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Following two Labour Prime Ministers and an election which saw a hung parliament, the Conservatives returned to power in 2010 as a coalition force with the Liberal Democrats. The government wasted no time in commissioning Lord Young of Graffham to conduct a review of the operation of health and safety laws and growth of the compensation culture and, the following year, an independent review of health and safety legislation by Professor Löfstedt.

The reviews concluded that too often businesses felt they must go beyond what health and safety law required. The reports said that there were too many inspections of relatively low risk workplaces, that there was an overly complex structure for regulation, that businesses all too often received poor health and safety advice from badly qualified consultants and that a ‘compensation culture’ lead businesses to a fear of being sued for accidents, even where they were not at fault.

Since the reports, the HSE has published information to help small and medium-sized businesses achieve a basic level of health and safety management, as well as reducing the overall stock of health and safety legislation by 50 per cent. It has also simplified and clarified guidance and accident and ill health reporting requirements.

While some welcomed the changes, there was criticism by others within the industry, with the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) expressing that deregulation could lead to confusion, lower standards and increase the risk of injury and illness at work.

Another change has been the HSE’s cost recovery scheme known as Fee for Intervention (FFI), a scheme used to recover HSE’s costs against those who contravene health and safety laws.

Present

A final progress report on implementation of health and safety reforms was published in March 2015. It can be seen here.

Future

The Government has recently passed three pieces of law, the first being the Deregulation Act 2015, which could exempt one million self-employed people who work in low risk sectors or carry out low risk activity, from health and safety law altogether. The second is SARAH – the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Act 2015 which has been designed to help certain people who “step in heroically to help in dangerous circumstances” being put off from doing good deeds for fear of legal action if something went wrong.

Finally, the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which includes a provision to encourage businesses to take action to ensure their end-to-end supply chains are slavery free. This is one of the final pieces of legislation to be put on the statute books by this government.

Labour

Past

In the 1970s the Labour governments introduced a wide range of new rights for women including maternity leave and the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 which prohibited discrimination against women at work.

In 1974 the most crucial piece of health and safety legislation, the Health and Safety at Work Act, was secured by a new Labour administration. In that year 651 fatal injuries were recorded in Britain’s workplaces. In 2013/14 that figure was 85 – a drop of 87 per cent.

A more effective system of workplace inspection was set up, together with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 1975.

In 1999, following two conservative PMs, Labour’s government under Tony Blair brought in the Revitalising Health and Safety initiative to “inject new impetus and relaunch the health and safety agenda, 25 years after the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.”

Present

In its “pre-manifesto” the Labour party has said that we need to change our economy to make it work for working people. The document discusses how Labour will tackle low pay, insecurity at work, and ban exploitative zero-hours contracts.

Leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband, says that Labour will deliver on the promise of gender equality, supporting women to balance work with caring commitments, promoting flexible working and increasing pay transparency as well as a comprehensive race equality strategy.

Future

In its recently released workplace manifesto, A Better Plan for Britain’s Workplaces, the Labour Government pledges a full inquiry into blacklisting, a commitment to tackle all forms of false self-employment in the construction industry, an end to exploitative zero-hours contracts and a review of workplace safety arrangements including support for occupational health.

UCATT General Secretary Steve Murphy said that the manifesto: “Sets clear red water between the choice for voters in this General Election.”

Liberal Democrats

As Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg has been vocal in his support for reducing health and safety regulation as part of the Coalition government. In 2012 he met with small business leaders to announce the new system of regulation, saying that the Coalition was on a mission to liberate small business. He said: “We have set ourselves the challenge of being the first British Government to leave office having reduced the overall burden rather than increased it.”

Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable launched a review aimed at shoring up workers’ rights, in October last year, and also the new Workers’ Rights Agency, which will go forward to the Lib Dem manifesto. This would streamline the work of four existing bodies, revamp efforts to enforce employment law and tackle the exploitation of workers.

Finally, one key area in which Nick Clegg has been involved is mental health, and in particular the Time to Change campaign. The Lib Dems believe mental health should not be ignored or stigmatised and should be taken as seriously as physical health.

UKIP

In its Employment Policy UKIP says that businesses should be able to discriminate in favour of young British workers and, that if they came to power they would repeal the Agency Workers Directive, which seeks to guarantee those working through employment agencies equal pay and conditions with employees in the same business who do the same work.

In the article Asbestos, an Election Issue, Laurie Kazan-Allen says that UKIP promises to “get rid of unnecessary (asbestos) regulations” by declassifying “white asbestos cement (e.g. building cladding)” as a hazardous substance.

The article states that UKIP “remains in denial” after Roger Helmer, a UKIP Member of the European Parliament, told a meeting of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs that there was “zero risk from white (chrysotile) asbestos.” (http://www.ukipmeps.org/articles_584_Why-not-all-forms-of-asbestos-should-be-banned—Roger-Helmer.html)

The Green Party

Within its Occupational Health Services Policy, the Green Party said that the criteria for the provision of training and equipment will be made as clear and as simple as possible, and loopholes permitting unscrupulous employers to minimise provision will be closed.

Particular support and attention will be given to the occupational health needs of employees in small organisations and firms. The role of health and safety inspectors in enforcing these requirements will be strengthened and enlarged.

Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party, commented on an “entirely ideological plan to privatise the Health and Safety Executive” saying: “Chris Grayling wanted to abolish it altogether, but was prevented by European law – instead he cut its budget by 35 per cent and banned proactive inspections in “low risk” workplaces, including such areas as quarries, manufacturing, air and road transport, hospitals and school. Yet 53 per cent of health and safety deaths occur in “low risk” workplaces.”

SNP

SNP’s employment policy says it would end unfair and exploitative zero-hours contracts and protect small businesses.

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Vince Butler
Vince Butler
9 years ago

Informative article. Irrespective a manifesto promises (sorry lies), and whoever governs after May 7, there will be more and faster H&S deregulation – less worker security and employment rights – more zero-hour contracts – lower standards – more privatisation for essential public services and the NHS – democracy undermined and the obvious reversal in H&S improvements that will result. The reason for this negative view – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) coming to a country, county, city, community, workplace near you – very soon. Interesting TTIP + ISDS hasn’t been mentioned… Read more »