Solidarity Magazine » Health & Safety Fri, 01 Mar 2013 19:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Deregulation is really a workplace death wish Thu, 02 Jun 2011 17:08:33 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Rory O’Neill Hazards Magazine

A UK government-commissioned review of health and safety, which will report to ministers in autumn 2011, is not really about changing the law. It’s about risk envy – our competitors don’t all abide by strict rules governing safety and decency at work, so why should the UK? And it is a topic on which Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, charged with undertaking the review, is an acknowledged expert.

In May 2011, the government put out a call for evidence for the Löfstedt review, inviting contributions “from all interested parties on the scope for reducing the burden of health and safety regulation on UK businesses whilst maintaining health and safety outcomes.”

The government said the review “is part of a package of changes to Britain’s health and safety system to support the government’s growth agenda and cut red tape.” It hopes Professor Löfstedt will give it license for a backdoor erosion of safety rights and of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) enforcement role.

In the US, the professor has been a prominent opponent of tighter regulatory controls on industry. Under his “risk-risk” analysis he argues they can mean an unjustified bill for firms that would then be disadvantaged in global markets.

In the case of Portland cement, a potential human carcinogen, Löfstedt’s March 2010 report concluded “putting forward stringent regulation on the US cement industry, will lead to a risk transfer from the United States to offshore (most notably China), leading to negligible environmental improvements for the United States and the global community.”

The March 2010 analysis was press released by the cement industry. The paper contained all the key talking points from the business lobby’s anti-regulation template. Regulations cost jobs, regulations are expensive, regulations are unfair to domestic industry and regulations don’t work. It’s a package found repeatedly to be based on inflated estimates of costs and consequences, and a blind eye to the potential benefits.

Equally concerning, it is informed by an assumption that regardless of the costs, it should be the world’s dirtiest players that set the standard. The logic would also make forced labour an economic necessity – it’s a practice that remains a significant problem worldwide, and which presumably offers some economic advantage to less scrupulous employers.

Professor Löfstedt’s work has not previously focussed on occupational health and safety issues. However, he is viewed as a strong anti-regulation advocate by many who have encountered him on food safety and environmental issues. He is an adjunct professor at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, a body which has been criticised strongly by unions, safety and environmental advocates in the USA as an anti-regulation “front” for business interests.

Throughout July 2011, in the midst of the health and safety review, Professor Löfstedt is scheduled to be running a 30-session ‘Managing hazards in Europe and the United States’ course at King’s College London. He will be working hand-in-hand with long-time collaborator and founder of the Harvard Center, Professor John D Graham. The academic’s 2001 nomination for a key regulation-busting role in George W Bush’s administration prompted a letter from 53 of his peers warning Graham’s work “demonstrated a remarkable congruency with the interests of regulated industries.”

Morality and facts are already casualties of the business driven ‘business burdens’ debate, and safety is set to follow suit. The deregulation urge is now so engrained at the UK’s safety watchdog, HSE, it routinely ignores evidence that legal standards designed to protect workers from established poisons like lead and cancer-causing chemicals are inadequate and tightening them will save lives.

Its latest denial of responsibility involves workplace dust. Unions have long called for tighter dust exposure standards and HSE’s own advisory committees have demanded a campaign to promote awareness of the risks. Even if HSE was willing, which is it not, it now says “constrained resources” rule out a campaign. And despite acknowledging evidence showing hundreds of lives each year could be saved if employers reduced workplace dust exposures, it describes this as “only limited benefits” so it would not be tightening the occupational exposure standard.

This outbreak of deregulatory fever not limited to the UK. Business lobby groups across the world are issuing a stream of cookie-cutter reports. It is not about lifting burdens, it is about evading responsibility. This may seem a good idea from the safety of the boardroom, but at the shopfloor it is, inevitably, a bloody disaster.

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People die when health and safety regulation is removed Fri, 25 Mar 2011 21:07:06 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A scalping or amputation is unlikely to be investigated now – under Chris Grayling’s regime how bad will an injury have to be?

Rory O’Neill

Pesky safety regulations and meddling inspectors are bringing the economy to its knees and stifling job creation, or so the business lobby says. And it has received a sympathetic ear from the government, which this week announced a giant stride towards safety lawlessness at work.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspections will be slashed, red tape will be cut and most firms will be assured an inspector will never call. All for safety’s sake.

There are three large flies in this deregulatory ointment. The arguments are bogus, the statistics behind them are rigged and there’s enough couldn’t-give-a-damn employers out there to ensure millions suffer work-related health problems each year.

Still, this hasn’t stopped the government scuppering a system it acknowledges has delivered one of the world’s better workplace safety records. Never mind that safety regulations properly enforced are accepted to be the best way to make employers behave safely.

Launching the “Good health and safety, Good for everyone” strategy, employment minister Chris Grayling instead said Britain’s health and safety culture was “stifling business and holding back economic growth“.

And unsurprisingly, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which publishes an annual off-with-their-regs manifesto, was among those to welcome the new strategy.

The most recent edition of BCC’s “Business burdens” report estimates workplace safety regulations lead to a recurring annual cost to business of £374m.

It sounds a lot. But BCC’s sums are seriously skewed.

BCC discounts entirely from its calculations the benefits to business from safety regulation, an omission it only acknowledges in the small print.

Whether it is safety-driven innovation, not making workers sick or not haemorrhaging valuable skills, there are real business benefits to not maiming your staff.

BCC ignores too the cost paid by the victims of slack health and safety standards. This human price outstrips the business cost several times over .

There’s the crunch of breaking bone in a workplace about 80 times every working day. Eyes or limbs are lost at work at a rate of two a day. Official figures indicate last year 1.3 million workers were harmed by their work, an increase on the previous year.

And these are just the injuries employers own up to – under-reporting is acknowledged to be rife.

There’s also a cash cost.

In Britain, occupational cancers alone cost society several billion pounds every year. Add in work-related heart and respiratory disease, mental illness and injuries and BCC’s costs complaints seem trivial bordering on ludicrous.

In fact, the total cost of neglecting workplace health and safety barely falls at all on business – the one party with something to gain from cost- and corner-cutting at the expense of safety.

HSE estimates less than a quarter of the cost of work-related injuries and ill-health is borne by employers, falling instead on “individuals and society”. And some recent evidence suggests this “cost-shifting” by business could be costing the rest of us considerably more.

When business and government frame health and safety protection as a job killer, rather than its absence as a killer full-stop, this keeps the real costs – people who get sick and die – safely out of the argument.

Safety enforcement was in crisis before the latest lurch toward lawlessness.

The prospects of a workplace seeing an HSE inspector last year slipped to once in a working lifetime. Just one in 15 major injuries at work – a scalping, blinding, the loss of a limb or two – resulted in a visit.

At the same time, HSE prosecutions sank to a record low, with just 735 convictions secured.

The workplace is already a safe haven for most rogue employers. Further deregulation will amplify the injustice, but that’s just what the government wants.

A 21 March ministerial statement from Chris Grayling noted the government would now concentrate “on dealing with serious breaches of health and safety regulation”.

If a scalping or an amputation is already unlikely to receive a knock at the door from HSE, under the new regime just how serious will an injury or breach have to be before an inspector calls?

Business over-estimates costs and ignores benefits with a purpose. It doesn’t want regulations and it doesn’t want enforcement. It has a government and a minister keen to oblige.

Somewhere down the line, people die when regulatory protection is removed. That is not a burden on business, it is a burden on families and a burden on the state.

That’s the ultimate capital crime.

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Trade Union responses to Lord Young's report on Health & Safety Fri, 15 Oct 2010 17:18:28 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Here are initial responses from the RMT, GMB and UNISON to Lord Young’s report on Health & Safety

Young report ‘a hatchet job’ on health and safety, says RMT

Publication Date: October 15 2010

LORD YOUNG’S report on health and safety is a hatchet-job based on prejudice that will do nothing to reduce workplace injuries, deaths and industrial disease, transport union RMT says today.

Under cover of simplifying the regime, freeing businesses from ‘unnecessary bureaucratic burdens’ and ending a ‘compensation culture’ that does not exist, the real aim of the report is to pave the way for a slashing of health and safety budgets, the union says.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:

There are already so few inspectors out there that a workplace can expect to be visited only once in four decades, and it is already notoriously difficult to get successful prosecution of bosses whose negligence causes injury, death or disease at work.

The most conservative estimate is that 200,000 people a year suffer occupational ill-health, and even the CBI accepts that some 30 million working days are lost to work-related accidents or illness each year.

Yet the moment Lord Young was given the brief to review Britain’s health and safety regime he began ridiculing it, criticising the mythical ‘compensation culture’ and wheeling out ‘health-and-safety-gone-mad’ stories.

RMT members have faced avoidable disasters including Piper Alpha, King’s Cross, Zeebrugge, Tebay and far too many rail crashes, as well as the risk of chronic ill-health and assault, and they are keenly aware of the need for robust health and safety protection.

Any weakening of an already weak regime will only undermine what little protection workers have from corner-cutting bosses for whom profit comes ahead of safety.”

Lord Young’s Report, “Common Safety, Common Sense”, is disappointing, says GMB

The proposal to limit the personal injury compensation to victims of road traffic accidents at £25,000 will need some explaining to victims of negligent drivers perhaps disabled for life as we can see what is in this for insurance companies but cannot see what is in it for the public or workers

GMB commented on the report from Lord Young on Health and Safety “Common safety, Common sense” published today.

John McClean,GMB National Health and Safety Officer, said:

We have arrived at the current regulatory regime along a road built on the blood, broken bones and deaths of workers and the public and attempts to undermine or trivialise this is not just a mistake it is also insulting.

The proposal to limit the personal injury compensation to victims of road traffic accidents at £25,000 will need some explaining to victims of negligent drivers perhaps disabled for life. We can see what is in this £25,000 limit for insurance companies and city institutions that own them but cannot see what is in it for the public or workers.

Overall this review is very much a missed opportunity. Many of Lord Young’s recommendations have already been implemented, and the review fails to tackle the key issues. But there are some positives.

GMB is pleased that Lord Young recognises the value of the Health and Safety at Work Act, and the importance of the HSE and Local Authorities in enforcing the Act. The Government should take full account of this in next week’s spending review.

GMB welcome regulation of ‘claims farmers’ whose actions only steal from those already suffering.

GMB welcome moves to clarify risk assessment and consent issues in schools.

GMB support combining health and safety inspections with food safety inspections, so long as non-food workplaces continue to be inspected by Local Authority officers.

Much of the review however, fails to deliver. In particular:-

GMB disputes the idea that shops, offices and schools should be subject to lesser scrutiny. There are serious injuries caused by violence, slips & trips and transport accidents that must be tackled, not ignored. Workers in these sectors should enjoy the same protections as in every other sector.

Fining councils for banning events will be counter-productive and a waste of resources during a time of heavy cuts in Local Authorities.

A single set of regulations covering the whole range of workplace hazards is unworkable. The risks are too disparate to be covered in one place.

Changing the accident reporting criteria from 3 days to 7 days will only serve to take a huge number of injuries out of the official statistics.

Unfortunately, none of the recommendations in this report will have the slightest impact on the thousands of work-related deaths and injuries in the UK each year.”

Health and safety myths put workers’ lives at risk

UNISON, the UK’s largest union, today warned that Lord Young’s review into health and safety failed to distinguish between the very real problems of health and safety at work and the “ambulance chasers” who try to make money from peoples’ misfortune.

The union said that many of the proposals in the report had nothing to do with occupational health and safety. And, where they do relate to workplace health and safety, the more practical ones either already exist or are in the process of being developed. (e.g. online risk assessment tool, register of consultants etc).

Hope Daley, UNISON’s Head of Health and Safety said:

“Lord Young has missed the opportunity to tackle the myths circulated about occupational health and safety which is damaging to both employers and employees. Many of these myths have taken root because of the ambulance chasers who seek to make money out of peoples’ misfortune. This simple failure could turn back the clock on health and safety and increase the number of accidents and injury to workers.

“Despite the review, Lord Young shows no awareness of the problems caused by occupational ill health and no real understanding of the level of injury or ill health in schools, classrooms or offices. Schools and offices have very high levels of stress related illness, and many people suffer from arm, back and neck injuries. Between them these are responsible for around three quarters of work related sickness absence.

“This report is really only interested in freeing business from bureaucratic burdens and disregards the value of workers’ health and safety.”

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RMT to take tube safety campaign to Euston passengers after fire detection failures and calls for urgent inspections at all sub-surface stations Mon, 09 Aug 2010 18:43:05 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

TUBE UNION RMT is to leaflet rush-hour passengers at Euston station this Wednesday morning over cuts to safety and safety-critical jobs following revelations that fire detection systems at the station failed last month creating the potential for a major disaster that was only avoided by the actions of a vigilant member of station staff.

RMT also confirmed today that it has written to London Underground requesting that all fire detection equipment at sub-surface stations be inspected within the next 72 hours under Section 12 Fire Regulations which were introduced after Kings Cross.

The Euston fire, which has close parallels with the Kings Cross disaster in 1987 one stop up the line, was caused by mechanical friction in the closed chamber underneath an escalator igniting accumulated dust and grease.

Fire detection systems failed and the smoke was spotted by staff members who activated the manual evacuation procedure and closed the station averting a potential disaster. RMT is pointing out that it’s those very staff who are among the 800 jobs that are currently under threat from Boris Johnson’s cuts and which are subject to a current ballot for industrial action which closes on Wednesday – 11th August.

Another fire alert was again raised by tube station staff last Friday in the morning rush hour at Oxford Circus where an air conditioning unit ignited and was spotted by staff members who safely evacuated the station.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:

The two recent fire incidents at Euston and Oxford Circus show once again that it is vigilant and trained staff at station level who are critical when it comes to spotting potential danger and activating emergency evacuation procedures – yet these are the very staff that TfL are looking to axe in a cull of 800 tube station posts.

If anyone wanted a clear example of why we are currently balloting for action over the axing of safety-critical tube jobs they need look no further than the role played by staff at Euston and Oxford Circus. If those station staff hadn’t been on duty we could have had major disasters on our hands.”

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RMT to ballot all tube fleet for action as London Underground doubles time between crucial safety inspections Fri, 06 Aug 2010 17:10:18 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Publication Date: August 6 2010

TUBE UNION RMT confirmed today that it is preparing a ballot for action of all tube fleet maintenance staff following an announcement by London Underground that they plan to double the length of time between safety-critical train inspections from 14 days to 28 days.

The inspections, of braking systems and other equipment that it is crucial to staff and passenger safety, are being cut in frequency as a blatant cost saving measure which is just part of the overall cuts drive being bulldozed through by Transport for London.

RMT have warned that these latest tube maintenance cuts are another element of an overall attack on jobs and safety that would leave fleet staff facing the threat of the axe – a threat that London Underground have not denied.

All RMT LU fleet staff will be balloted for action short of a strike.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:

Hardly a day goes by now without TfL and LU getting caught out playing fast and loose with staff and passenger safety. These fortnightly inspections identify worn brake blocks, cracks in securing brackets and other distressed components. Moving these inspections to monthly is literally dicing with death in the interests of saving money.

Highly skilled fleet maintenance crew are the latest group of tube workers to find that their jobs are under threat as the TfL cuts bulldozer ploughs on regardless of the consequences.

Mayor Boris Johnson is presiding over the biggest safety carve-up on London Underground in its history and yet he remains silent on these issues as his managers are out there sharpening their knives.

RMT has a stark choice – ballot for action or sit back and wait for a disaster to unfold. We have chosen to ballot for action.”

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No evidence for deregulating health and safety Thu, 17 Jun 2010 15:13:50 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Report by Hazards Campaign


Health and safety at work is only a joke if you are not on the receiving end of the lack of it

Hilda Palmer of the Hazards Campaign said:

The Hazards Campaign is alarmed that the ill-thought out, spurious review of health and safety proposed by the Conservatives before the election, is actually being carried out by the coalition government, with Lord Young reporting directly to the Prime Minister. There is a lack of evidence or fact to support the need or value of cutting regulation of health and safety, a lack of balance in failing to mention the burden on workers hurt or made ill, and the families of those killed, and failure to mention the massive cost of up to £30 billion per year of bad health and safety, the majority of which employers externalise onto all of us (1). This suggests the review is not a genuine evidence-based review, but more a foregone business-friendly conclusion, based on apocryphal bar room tales. Using non-workplace silly stories to attack the rights of all workers to safe healthy conditions is illogical, insulting and potentially deadly to workers and their families.

As we all watch the BP-caused disaster playing out in the Gulf of Mexico, where a multi-national serial killing corporation killed 11 workers and is now devastating the livelihoods of many more, the lesson painfully accepted by the US government is that there has been too little regulation and enforcement; that government has been far too influenced by business lobbying to reduce their regulatory ’burden’, and that the cost of business behaving badly is paid by the wider society.”

Hilda Palmer added:

Given the choice, the people around the Gulf of Mexico would probably vote for tighter regulations than trying to put the oil back in BP’s well. We need to remind the government that none of us voted to die at work in the last election (2), and that any reduction in the regulation of health and safety and of its enforcement, will hurt, make ill and kill more workers and members of the public, and cost the economy £billions more we don’t have. The government must learn from the failure to regulate the financial sector business which has created the current deficit we are now being told we must pay, and from Stockline, Buncefield, numerous train disasters, and every workplace death, injury and illness. The logical answer is to give directors legal duties for health and safety, and to hold them and all employers more accountable by strict enforcement and penalties, to prevent more costs we cannot pay (3). Attacking health and safety is illogical and gives the lie to the government claims that ’We are all in it together’ as any decrease in regulation and enforcement of workers safety and health will kill and hurt more of us, not them!

Health and Safety at work is only a joke if you are not on the receiving end of the lack of good health and safety management, like the hundreds of thousands of workers who get injured, killed or made ill by totally preventable incidents every year (4). Most of the spurious examples quoted by Lord Young are not about health and safety in workplaces, many seem frankly apocryphal, are about health and safety being used as an excuse, or are about compensation, yet successive Government reports have found there is not a compensation culture, and less than one in ten workers receives any form of compensation (5) It isn’t clear what health and laws could be repealed to stop the nonsenses to which Lord Young refers, but the suggestion that police and emergency service workers should have their human rights to safe work reduced is outrage. Any review of health and safety must look at the cost of poor health and safety and who pays, and examine the immense burden on workers and the families of those killed at work, and on the whole of society, to understand the full costs of employers’ failure to obey the law.

Added to the incalculable emotional cost of work-related injury, illness and death, the costs of bad health and safety fall mostly on families and the state in health and benefit cost, but the employers who cause this pay less than 25% of the up to £30 billion cost to society (1). The ’ burdens on business’ claims must be examined much more critically.”

For more information contact Hilda Palmer 0161 636 7557


1. ’Who Pays? You do!’ Hazards Magazine 106

2. ’We did not vote to die at work’ Hazards 110

3. Spot the idiotic inconsistency, Hazards Green Jobs blog

4. ’The Whole Story’ up to 1, 500 killed in workplace incidents and up to 50, 000 dying due to work-related illnesses every year in the UK Safety and Health Practitioner December 2008

5. ’A little bit of compensation’ Hazards Magazine

Hazards Campaign
Windrush Millennium Centre
70 Alexandra Road,
M16 7WD

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Crane Safety win for Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group Wed, 03 Mar 2010 15:14:20 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Report by Liliana Alexa

Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group has won the fight to change the law around crane safety.

Following the collapse of a tower crane in Battersea in September 2006 which killed 2 men, a community and trade union campaign was launched to call for a change in the law surrounding tower cranes.

After a hard fought, award winning campaign new regulations around tower crane safety will now come into force on the 6th April which include the registration of all conventional tower cranes.

Employers will now have responsibility to notify the health and safety executive of the site address of the crane and the name and address of the owners of the crane. This will have to be followed up with an examination of the crane within a 14 day period before the crane can be put to use.

The Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group, which was initiated by Battersea and Wandsworth TUC unified the local community in Battersea, bereaved family members and the trade unions to bring the issue of crane safety to the public and campaign for change to prevent further deaths.

Poor health and safety surrounding tower cranes has led to the death of at least 8 people since 2000. According to the Health and Safety executive, the new law will now go a long way to ensuring this isn’t repeated.

Liliana Alexa, whose son Michael Alexa, 23, was killed by the crane whilst cleaning his car welcomed the news of the change in the law.

She said; “I am very, very happy to hear about the crane register becoming law, I welcome anything that leads to improved health and safety legislation.

But too many people are still being killed and hurt on building sites, these people usually get paid around £7-10 an hour to risk their lives and their safety on a daily basis, its just not worth it, but where else are they meant to work? They are then told to keep quiet if they hear or see anything on site which contradicts good health and safety practice.

Just before Christmas a young man was killed on the Olympics construction site in Westfield, London. When will these deaths stop? They are unnecessary and preventable. Workers need to join together in trade unions to ensure that employers take health and safety seriously.

My son didn’t work on a site, he was just out cleaning his car on the street, an innocent bystander, yet if health and safety surrounding tower cranes had been taken more seriously he may still be here today. I do not want another mother to go through what I have and so I hope that this register will help prevent more deaths n the future. This register must be used alongside workers on sites being organised and able to stand up to their employers when they see something that is not right.”

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