Health must be given equal status to safety, demands TUC
Much greater importance must be given to occupational-health prevention, with stronger regulations and enforcement to stop workers being made ill by their work.
This is one of the key recommendations – along with the need for regular inspections of all workplaces, revised rules on safety representatives to increase coverage, and statutory directors’ duties – highlighted by the TUC in its new ten-point health and safety manifesto.
The document, Time for change, laments the approach taken by the Coalition Government to relax health and safety laws and, instead, calls for urgent action to improve workplace conditions and bring the UK more into line with its European competitors.
Although the TUC accepts that the HSE and local authorities should concentrate activities on those businesses where inspections will be most effective, it insists that no business should be exempt from unannounced inspections – as is now the case for many so-called ‘low-risk’ workplaces, such as offices and shops.
By classifying these workplaces as ‘low-risk’, the TUC accuses the Government of only focusing on injury figures and missing the bigger picture. It points out, for example, that supermarket checkout staff are particularly susceptible to back injuries; shop workers can come into contact with violent or abusive customers and other individuals; and workers in the education and health and social-care sectors can suffer high levels of stress.
“If businesses only face an inspection if they injure or kill someone, it is not likely to act as a deterrent,” says the manifesto.
Closely connected to this recommendation is the TUC’s call for strong regulation aimed at preventing stress, musculoskeletal disorders, bullying and violence, as well as greater emphasis overall on occupational-health measures. If all workers were given free access to health surveillance and occupational-health provision, the savings to the economy – through lower sickness absence and a reduction in benefits payments – would far exceed the cost, claims the TUC.
More specific health measures promoted in the manifesto include the introduction of much lower limits for inhalable and respirable dust, and the removal, where possible, of all carcinogens from the workplace.
Manufacturers’ organisation EEF agreed that occupational health should have the same priority as injury prevention. Terry Woolmer, its head of health and safety policy, added: “One of the other TUC’s concerns is about the lack of a fully comprehensive occupational service. It is likely that the Government’s recent announcement on funding a Health and Work assessment and advisory service, sometime in 2014, will lead to some of these concerns being partly met.
On inspections, Woolmer underlined the simple fact that there is less money for this activity, but warned that low-risk premises that do not control their risks “should still anticipate visits if they have incidents, or track records of poor performance. In the long term, it is possible that Fee for Intervention (FFI) may provide additional revenue to cover some of HSE’s funding shortfall and lead to a modification of its current inspection strategy.”
Other measures in the manifesto include: strengthening the regulations on safety committees and safety reps to increase coverage and effectiveness; a new legal duty for directors, in order to change boardroom attitudes to health and safety; a new upper limit for a maximum temperature at work; widening the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to protect groups of vulnerable workers; and health and safety performance to be considered seriously when awarding public-sector contracts.
IOSH said a number of the manifesto’s recommendations mirror its existing policies and positions. Its head of policy and public affairs, Richard Jones, said: “We particularly welcome the TUC’s focus on the need for effective levels of regulatory inspections and prevention of work-related ill health, especially occupational cancers. We are also pleased to see the call for more protection of vulnerable workers, positive directors’ duties and a clear recognition of how public-service procurement can drive up supply-chain standards. €
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