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October 7, 2010

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Squeeze on budgets must not jeopardise health and safety

Future government spending cuts must not be used as an excuse for putting the safety of public-sector workers at risk. That was the message IOSH delivered to the Government following Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech at the Tory party conference yesterday (6 October).

Looking to allay fears over the severity of the impending cuts across the public sector, Mr Cameron announced that many government departments will have their budgets cut by an average 25 per cent over four years. But he insisted: “The ‘big society’ spirit means facing up to this generation’s debts, not shirking responsibility.”

He also pledged to help small businesses and entrepreneurs by slashing red tape, and suggested that health and safety bureaucracy needs to be scrapped to encourage people to play their part in volunteering to help with events like the 2012 Olympics.

Conceding that cuts need to be made, IOSH is keen to highlight the hidden dangers in tackling the economic deficit and has called on the prime minister not to allow health and safety to become a casualty of the cost-cutting culture.

The Institution’s chief executive, Rob Strange, said: “We understand that cuts are necessary, but we are extremely concerned that the safety of both workers and members of the public will be forgotten as managers desperately try to balance their budgets.”

IOSH believes that organisational changes – including reducing staffing levels, combining departments, and changing people’s roles and responsibilities – can increase the risk of injury if they are not properly managed.

The HSE, too, warns of workplace dangers when organisations cut costs, including excessive working hours, a lack of equipment maintenance, and lack of training. IOSH policy and technical director, Richard Jones, also raised concerns about potential cuts to the regulator’s own budget. He said: “It’s clearly a concern if resources are cut further. We think the numbers of front-line inspectors are too low, so we want to see, as a minimum, those current numbers maintained.”

The drive to cut both costs and health and safety ‘red tape’ could – as has been mooted in the national press – lead Lord Young to propose new joint-enforcement inspections by local-authority inspectors covering a range of compliance issues, such as health and safety, food hygiene, fire safety, etc. While not against joined-up enforcement in principle, Jones cautioned that inspectors must be competent to carry out such a role – a concern that the Tory peer himself highlights among health and safety consultants.

Said Jones: “Local authorities do offer small businesses a lot of advice, and if they’re not competent in the subject then it’s worse than no advice.”

He also voiced disquiet about how occupational health could suffer amid the austerity measures, and fears the Government might pull the plug on some of the pilots currently being conducted following Dame Carol Black’s review of health and well-being in 2008. He added: “It is the SMES that are most disadvantaged if you cease to provide these services.”

To help those organisations looking to cut costs ensure that their health and safety standards don’t drop, IOSH suggests the following steps:

  • assess the effect of proposed changes on the control of hazards in your workplace;
  • ensure your department’s re-organisation leaves adequate levels of trained and competent staff in areas that can have a safety impact;
  • make sure staff are kept fully abreast of organisational changes before, during and after they happen – and monitor their impact; and
  • provide training and support for staff with new or different roles.

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13 years ago

As Training and Development Manager for a new training business, I have been calling areas within the public sector to offer our various Work at Height Training services and have had the response, “due to cuts we won’t be doing any training until at least this time next year” on no less that 7 occasions. These are hospitals, councils etc.. I am concerned for the well-being of the maintenance staff in these areas as it is these that will fear for their jobs if they say anything.

13 years ago

Excellent common sense advice by IOSH.. I could not have said it any better