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Tories Declare War On H&S Legislation

In December 2007, CWU's Dave Joyce wrote an article published ont his website with regard to the dangers of a Tory government and its attack on health & safety legislation. This week saw the first Tory barrage, leading to the next General Election, in their war on health & safety legislation. their intention to repeal as many health & safety laws as possible is clearly stated.

In Cameron's major speech delivered this week (1 December) to Policy Exchange – a centre-right political think tank – the Tory leader outlined his intended approach to what he described as “... the over-the-top health and safety culture”.

Using some of the outrageous stories written in the Tory tabloids of children having been made to wear goggles by their head teachers to play conkers and trainee hairdressers being prevented from using scissors in the classroom, he claimed that “something has gone seriously wrong with the spirit of health and safety in the past decade.” The same David Cameron suggested last year that health and safety was to blame for a “broken society”, patronisingly stated this time that ".... health and safety legislation in Britain has a long, and at times very noble history”.

Rather than blaming the lack of understanding of, and the worst interpretation of, health & safety legislation; Cameron's Tories prefer to abolish the legislation rather than enforce it and educate business. Indeed, whilst smiling and putting over his reasoned argument he hides his true intentions of reducing and repealing legislation which protects workers whilst at work and in their workplaces.

Blaming, as usual, Europe and the current Labour Government, he said, “The growth of the excessive health and safety culture has also had a significant impact on our politics, by eroding accountability in our democracy. That’s because many of these decisions about new rules are taken by remote, unelected bodies, which feel little pressure to answer for their actions." He then once again blamed the lack of personal responsibilities within some quarters of british society on health and safety legislation by adding, “I’m sure the rise of this over-the-top health and safety culture is one of the reasons why people feel so angry and frustrated with politics in our country today.” He added, " There is the volume of bureaucratic rules that have been imported from Brussels and which we seem to gold plate. And of course there is this Labour Government that has passed law after law, rule after rule, in an endless attempt to micro manage and control people’s lives."

He went further and said, " The Health and Safety Executive enforces 202 statutory instruments – or regulations: two thirds of these were passed in the ninety-nine years before Labour came to power......a third of them in the twelve years since."

Promising the a Tory Government will free business form the burdens of health & safety legislation, Cameron gave notice of his real intentions by stating, " But it does not follow that employees can never be exposed to risk. It would be impossible for firemen to tackle fires or the police to chase criminals without a degree of risk. That’s why employers should be required to be clear about the attendant risks of the job – so when people sign up they know precisely what the work entails." A reasonable argument perhaps, but does this mean that as long as the workers know of risks at work it is ok for the employer not to manage and minimise those risks?

Apparently yes!

Cameron explained: " ......... in practice we can lighten the burden of this regulation by drawing on the mechanisms of what I have described as the post-bureaucratic age. By that I mean going with the grain of human nature rather than using the blunt tools of regulation."

In other words once again the tory philosophy of self regulation and volunteerism to the law when it comes to business, rather than the imposition of it.

Again using health & safety as a weapon against Europe he added; " At the moment, staffing needs in the NHS are being undermined by European regulations that dictate the number of hours that junior doctors are allowed to work. That’s why we want to negotiate the restoration of Britain’s control over EU social and employment legislation, in particular the aspects of the Working Time Directive which are causing the most problems in our public services."

Of course he ignores the element of risk to the health of patients by overworked doctors making incorrect decisions, or the health of those doctors working extended hours, some over 24 straight hours! Increasing working hours means paying for less staff and that is one of the true intentions of the tory proposals. Once again profit over the health of the workforce.

David Cameron also announced that Lord David Young has been given the task of undertaking an extensive review of all health and safety, including the working of the HSE, the nature of health and safety laws, litigation, and the insurance industry. He also questioned whether a Civil Liability Act might be necessary to enshrine in law where the liability for negligence lies, asking, "..... do we need to define civil liability for negligence in statute? At the moment there is no one single Act of Parliament that ties all this work together, showing where the liability for negligence lies. So I have asked David Young whether such an Act would be necessary and effective in reducing our excessive health and safety culture."

Summing up, Cameron said: “For every piece of health and safety legislation, we need to ask whether it fulfils a useful purpose – and if not, it must go. And we must bring some common sense to the laws surrounding compensation.

It is clear looking back that the Tory attacks on Health & Safety has been driven by the media for some years now which makes the CWU's Dave Joyce 2007 article even more poignant.

Whilst some trade Unions attacked David Cameron's speech and accused him of making politics out of health & safety, there are those who realise that health & safety is already a political issue and one we should embrace as a way of challenging the Tory attitude of putting profit before health and showing their attacks on health and safety at work for what they are.

Dave Joyce, CWU National Health & Safety Officer said in his December 2007 article alerting USRs to the emerging Tory attacks, "Many employers and managers are currently failing in their responsibilities to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees and this would clearly worsen under the Tories. The aim of the previous Tory government to reduce the regulatory burden on employers resulted in them achieving their desired effect of seriously undermining the effectiveness of the Health and Safety at Work Act and the EU Health and Safety Framework Directive. They accomplished this by enacting a series of measures designed to create a ‘business friendly atmosphere’ such as the failure to transpose EU H&S Directives correctly, Instructions to HSE inspectors to adopt a ‘softly, softly’ approach when considering enforcement, New rights of appeal against enforcement decisions for employers, HSE budget cuts, Parts of the HSE’s operations contracted-out and a reduction in HSE staffing levels."

Derek MaylorReading the full 2007 article shows that the true nature of Tory plans were never lost on trade unionists and were clearly foreseen as a political attack on the health and safety of the working population of this country. It also explains fully the intentions of the Tories in 2009!

The BT NW H&S Co-ord have responded to Cameron's speech with their Chair Derek Maylor saying: "Tory leader David Cameron is very cleverly making what at first glance may appear to be a reasonable argument by attacking the excesses of the accident claims industry. However, this is a smokescreen for his real aims of making health and safety legislation in the UK as weak as possible, encourage business self-regulation; whilst at the same time bringing in US style H&S culture which waits until something happens and people die before taking action. We all remember the case of Karen Silkwood in the '70's who campaigned against the lack of health & safety within a private company in the USA running an atomic energy plant. Private profit came before the health & safety of workers and the local population, with Karen Silkwood dieing mysteriously in a car crash. Such is the climate of health & safety within the USA, and if Cameron has his way this may be repeated here."

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber commented: “The idea that employers are being over-zealous in their application of health and safety regulation is simply not true. The reality is exactly the opposite – last year 246,000 people were injured at work. Neither does the UK have an excess of regulation – there were more than twice as many health and safety regulations and laws 35 years ago than there are now. Today’s safety laws are generally simpler and easier to understand.”

Alan Ritchie, general secretary of construction union UCATT, also hit out at the speech: “The Conservatives must not play politics with the safety of workers in their quest for votes. By trivialising the issue of safety the Conservatives are deflecting attention away from reality. Many workers, especially construction workers, are regularly placed in danger because there are simply too few inspections and too little enforcement activity on construction sites.”
 
He added: “The hard truth is that in the overwhelming majority of construction fatalities management failure caused or contributed to a worker’s death. Yet only around 30 per cent of deaths resulted in a conviction.”

Dave JoyceBut for the strongest condemnation of David Cameron and the Tory plan to take health & safety at work back to pre-industrialisation days, we return to CWU National Health and Safety Officer Dave Joyce who told Unionsafety:

"Cameron's latest speech gives real insight into the Conservatives health and safety thinking. There's no coherent strategy and no developed proposals. Kenneth Clark's proposals, announced at the Tory Conference, to allow companies to self-regulate and opt-out of HSE Inspection, simply by obtaining an independent audit, isn't mentioned after the recent condemnation by the Chair of the HSE."

He added: "The speech seems to consist of little more than a medley of already discredited Daily Mail 'bonkers-conkers' type headlines and has very little substance or accuracy. Cameron's advisers and speech writers are clearly out of touch. He says there's too much health and safety regulation. In fact there were more than twice as many health and safety regulations and laws 35 years ago than there are now and today's safety laws are simpler and easier to understand."

He went further: "Cameron and a Tory Government would seem happy to perpetuate a UK safety culture which is dangerously dysfunctional, blighted by under-resourced regulators with a fainthearted enforcement policy and where workers are actively discouraged from raising safety concerns. A system that gives a nod and a wink to employers that can put workers at risk with virtual impunity."

"The speech also faces both way! On closer reading, there's an acceptance from Cameron that the health and safety regime is overall both robust and effective! and ironically he even praises trade unions!, saying “trade unions remain a bulwark against most abuse happening”.

Dave concludes "When it comes to the next General Election workers will decide the result and they need to think carefully about the Tory threat to their wellbeing at work. David Cameron has never done a hard days work in his life. Brought up into an illustrious family and with a £30 million fortune in the bank, he lives on a different planet and can never even begin to imagine the types of workplaces in which 250,000 UK workers were injured last year - something he has never, ever mentioned".

It remain now the role of all who are concerned about the health, safety and welfare of the working population to ensure that health and safety is not buried amongst the arguments about the economy and the behaviour of the banks and that health and safety is finally seen by the public as the important issue it is to both the working population and the economy as a whole and becomes a major election issue.

Alert your MP to this article and demand the condemnation the Tory plans in Parliament.

Read David Cameron's attack on H&S here

Source: SHP/UCATT/Conservative Part/TUC/You Tube/CWU/NW BTU H&S Co-ord

Read Dave Joyce's 2007 article here

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