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       Hazards special online report, December 2013
Business says deregulate: The government will obey
David Cameron’s Business Taskforce claims safety regulations are bad for business. Hazards editor Rory O’Neill warns the robotic call from these red tape fixated ‘demented Daleks’ doesn’t add up. It will though leave a trail of human and economic devastation in its wake.

When official initiatives denigrating basic safety precautions at work come at a rate of one every couple of weeks, it is apparent what’s among the government’s favourite election season whipping boys.

UNSAFE HANDS  Prime minister David Cameron has sold his anti-safety crusade to Europe, which has now abandoned all its safety plans and put its already long overdue safety strategy on ice.

Cut EU red tape: report from the Business Taskforce, the 15 October 2013 report by six business leaders hand-picked by the prime minister, followed the government’s 1 October deregulation celebration, Freedom Day. Both put workplace health and safety at the top of their hit lists.

The ‘Cut EU red tape’ report noted - without presenting supporting evidence - that “problematic, poorly-understood and burdensome European rules” slowed production, job creation, sales and innovation and left Europe trailing international trading rivals.

David Cameron, accepting the report’s recommendations, said: “Business people, particularly owners of small firms, are forced to spend too much time complying with pointless, burdensome and costly regulations and that means less time developing a new product, winning contracts or hiring young recruits. I’m determined to change that and to get the EU working for business, not against it.”

Heading the list of the deregulation-focused recommendations was a call for smaller businesses to be exempted from the requirement to keep written records of risk assessments.


The ‘Cut EU Red Tape’ paper produced by six business leaders (excerpt above) was just what David Cameron ordered. But while it delivered the predictable wishlist of safety and employment rights it believed businesses would rather do without, it didn’t deliver any supporting evidence of either burdens or costs. It claimed, for example, that removing the requirement from small firms to keep written records of risk assessments would save €2.7 billion (£2.3bn) across the EU. No matter that the majority of small businesses in the UK are already exempted from this requirement. And the source of this unexplained and uncosted figure? Not a research paper or journal article, not a thinktank, not a published report and not a safety agency, but an unidentified “small business organisation.”

It was a recommendation the TUC found concerning, safety chief Hugh Robertson noting that “as small businesses with fewer than five workers do not have to keep written risk assessments at the moment presumably they are talking about much bigger businesses.

“They do however say that removing the requirement to write down health and safety risk assessments could save businesses across the EU some €2.7 billion (£2.3 billion). This is nonsense. It will increase the cost by driving up injuries and occupational illnesses.” The €2.7 billion figure, which is not explained or costed, is credited by the Big Six to an unnamed “small business organisation.”

 “The report is exactly what you would expect if you are going to ask business leaders to write a report on regulation,” said Robertson. "It recycles everything we have heard before, this time with the addition of unsubstantiated costs which ignore the benefits that strong regulations bring. A whine-fest in other words.”

Bad business

EXTERMINATE  The Hazards Campaign says the business lobby’s ‘demented Daleks’ want to destroy lifesaving safety regulations, and the government is listening and will obey.

Safety campaigners believe businesses will take safety deregulation because that’s what’s on offer. But they say it is the wrong target and its erosion will add to business woes, not ease them.

“According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) the cost to society of these injuries and illnesses was £13.4 billion,” said TUC’s Hugh Robertson. “Many of these injuries were in the very kind of company that the Business Taskforce now wants to exempt.”

Both the Hazards Campaign and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) said the taskforce, whose list of the ‘30 worst threats to small firms’ has written risk assessments at the top, was off the mark – and didn’t even represent the views of other business groups.

Hilda Palmer of the Hazards Campaign described the report as “just another lazy, unevidenced, deadly demand by vested business interests, without consulting any representatives of those harmed by work, to legitimise bad work.” She added: “Like a bunch of demented Daleks, six business leaders are rolled out to repeat the same ludicrous robotic mantra: ‘Deregulate, Deregulate, Deregulate!’. We say Regulate, Regulate, Regulate, we love red tape and we want a health and safety system with workers at its centre that is good for all!”

Marc Bolland, a member of David Cameron’s personally selected six person Business Taskforce  and chief executive of Marks and Spencer, said the group’s recommendations would “maximise growth opportunities.” But it is not health and safety that caused the flagging retailer to admit in November 2013 that its sales had fallen for the ninth consecutive quarter or its profits fallen by 9.1 per cent in the six months to September 2013. He admitted profits had suffered because of heavy discounting in a tough market.

According to Palmer, the business lobby can afford to be blasé about the costs of workplace injuries and ill-health, because it shunts the costs onto to the rest of us. “Employers pay less than a quarter of the cost of the harm they cause,” she said, referring to HSE figures. “So the real problem at work is not too much red tape but too many bloody bandages.”

Richard Jones, head of policy at IOSH, said: “In this latest report, we’re concerned that once again health and safety is misunderstood and wrongly labelled as a hindrance to business – whereas research shows that positive feelings about work are linked with higher productivity, profitability and worker and customer loyalty.”

He added: “In terms of economics, we understand that at least one European employer body (UEAPME), while supporting simplification, has opposed general exemption from health and safety laws for small firms because of fear it would create a two-tier system in the internal market and be detrimental to their members.”

The TUC’s Hugh Robertson concluded: “Let’s have an EU strategy on health and safety that addresses the actual problems and plugs the gaping holes we have, not which adds a few more.”

No strategy at all

Those gaping holes will remain for quite a while longer. On 2 October 2013 the European Commission shelved its already one year overdue health and safety strategy, thanks in a large part to lobbying by the UK government and employers’ groups.

The European Commission’s REFIT deregulatory policy has been influenced by the regulation averse UK Institute of Directors. The  EC ignored evidence that didn’t fit with its mission to strip safety and employment protection across the European Union.more

Hilda Palmer said the deregulatory push is as relentless as it is misguided. She pointed to 1 October 2013 comments by business minister Michael Fallon, who claimed the latest round of cuts to safety regulations are “good news for the growth prospects of UK companies.”

Marking the government-invented ‘Freedom Day, Fallon said: “Reducing government interference is improving Britain’s international reputation as a low-regulation, pro-business nation, but more must be done. To give our firms the best chance of winning on the global stage, we will press for more cuts in red tape in Europe, as well as at home.”

Workplace health and safety measures dominated the cuts to “red tape” highlighted by the minister. These included barring “strict liability” compensation claims for workplace injuries, dramatically curtailing workplace injury and disease reporting requirements, making it more difficult for employees to pursue workplace harassment claims against their employers and removing the requirement for the Health and Safety Executive to approve training and qualifications of appointed first-aid personnel.

But Hilda Palmer said the event marked “freedom from having to give a damn about health and safety day”. She added: “Workplace safety has been the top target of the government's attack on ‘red tape’ or, to you and me, the regulations that save our necks. There's lots of ‘burdens’ arguments given in justifying the move, all bogus.”


UK business helps scupper EU safety strategy

The European Commission (EC) has suspended all progress on its already overdue workplace health and safety strategy. The move, which has been condemned by unions, came on 2 October 2013 in an EC communication on its REFIT deregulatory policy.

The EC policy was influenced by the regulation averse UK Institute of Directors, citing its June 2013 ‘Midas touch’ document as evidence of ‘goldplating’ to “add regulatory burden when implementing or applying EU regulation.”

In fact, less biased studies have shown this over-implementation claim is unfounded when it comes to UK safety laws. The TUC, in its 2011 evidence to the government-commissioned Löfstedt review of workplace safety legislation, noted “the idea that there is any type of 'over-regulation' or 'additional burdens' being placed on business by the HSE is not borne out by the evidence.”

It added there have been several cases where the UK has been investigated for under-compliance. Changes to the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations that took effect in April 2012 extended the law’s protection to a wider group of workers, after European Commission lawmakers indicated the UK’s law was too restrictive to meet minimum Europe-wide requirements.

Professor Ragnar Löfstedt’s November 2011 report to ministers, Reclaiming health and safety for all: An independent review of health and safety regulation, concluded Britain’s workplace safety laws “are broadly right” and there is “little evidence” they are goldplated. Löfstedt ‘s report isn’t cited in the EC report; IoD’s report is.

According to ETUI, the research arm of Europe’s trade union confederation ETUC, put on hold by the EC are “big issues that affect the lives and health of millions of workers in Europe, like bringing in a directive on musculoskeletal disorders and improving EU laws to prevent work-induced cancers.”

The REFIT programme also has an action plan for 2013 and 2014 to ‘simplify’ EU social laws, “at the risk of rolling back minimum fundamental rights for many workers in Europe”, said ETUI.

•  Regulatory fitness and performance (REFIT): results and next steps, EC    communication, 2 October 2013. www.ec.europa.eu/refit
•  The Midas Touch: Gold-plating of EU employment directives in UK law, Institute of     Directors, June 2013. www.iod.com
•  TUC evidence to the Löfstedt review, 22 July 2011.


Government to ‘commercialise’ the safety watchdog

The TUC and unions have welcomed the 9 January 2014 recommendations of the government-ordered Triennial Review into the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which confirmed the important role the regulator plays in reducing injury and ill-health caused by work, concluded it was “fit for purpose” and said it should remain a public body. But its conclusion was exactly what ministers didn’t want to hear, so the government promptly announced it was going to go its own deregulatory way regardless and “commercialise” HSE.

The review, conducted by a government-selected business lobby group leader, is the fourth to examine the health and safety system since 2010, following the Young and Löfstedt reports and the “Red tape” challenge. All have confirmed the need for a robust health and safety system and have concluded that the Health and Safety at Work Act has stood the test of time. The review also confirmed the current regulatory regime “is fit for purpose.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is the fourth government-commissioned report in recent years to highlight the benefits that the HSE brings to workers across the UK. The past few years have been difficult for the HSE given the cuts to funding and reductions in enforcement activity. We hope that the government will now support the HSE in taking forward the review’s recommendations and give it the resources and political backing it so desperately needs.”

She added: “The report is supportive of bringing together unions, employers and government to deal with health and safety issues. We are concerned, however, that the government’s implementation of some of its recommendations could undermine this approach. It is important that unions and employers continue to play an equal role in the way the HSE operates.

“There was huge support from all those who responded to the review for the work of the HSE as a public body. We believe that, given the scale of injury and illness across UK workplaces, the government should not undermine the ability of the HSE to meet that challenge.”

The government-ordered Triennial Review gave overwhelming support for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said its approach was “fit for purpose”, highlighted the importance of its regulatory role and called for an a renewed push to prevent occupational diseases. The report of the review – authored by the chair of the employers’ lobby group EEF, Martin Temple and published on 9 January 2014  - concluded the current system works, contradicting government complaints that health and safety is a “burden on business”.

It found: “In both development of standards and submitting proposals for legislation, HSE’s strength was seen to be its technical expertise and its access and contact with all the relevant stakeholders (employers and employee representatives).”

The report also opposed the government driven “dumbing down” of guidance. And it rejected outright the privatisation of HSE functions, noting an HSE which is a “non-departmental public body remains the appropriate delivery model.”

The government immediately indicated the findings did not fit with its pre-ordained plans for HSE. In a 9 January 2014 ministerial statement, safety minister Mike Penning said the government wants “to go further to introduce reforms of HSE to ensure that it delivers value for money to the taxpayer, whilst ensuring safety for the nation.

“There is considerable potential for HSE to become more commercial in outlook and in delivery – increasing the pace of the work already started within the organisation. Therefore, I have asked HSE to begin work immediately to examine commercial models for HSE in collaboration with HMT and Cabinet office, and to review the HSE Board to ensure it has the right skills to oversee future efficiencies and commercial income generating options.”

TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said HSE had been “reviewed to death”, adding: “So once again they have asked a question and because they do not like the answer they are going to go ahead with what they clearly wanted to do anyway. They have also indicated that they will not respond to other parts of the triennial review until later in the year,” leaving HSE “in limbo”.

He said the last minute government decision to strap the recruitment process for a new HSE chief executive, after interviews had taken place, suggested the government now intended to “appoint someone who will share their zeal for greater commercialisation.”

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) union Prospect said the government must heed warnings in the review about the dangers of the 'fee for intervention' model and should ensure workers are involved in discussions about any changes to HSE’s role.

Deputy general secretary Garry Graham said: “We are delighted that the fourth review of the HSE in recent years once more confirms that the agency is fit for purpose and benefits workers and employers across the UK. We welcome author Martin Temple's finding that the HSE's functions should continue to be delivered by a non-departmental public body, allowing it to retain its independence and his praise for the professionalism and competence of staff.”

He said “the review rightly raises concerns about the new 'fee for intervention' (FFI) model, which links the regulator's funding to its income from 'fines', calling it a 'dangerous' model that has potentially damaged the HSE's reputation for acting impartially and independently.”

He said the union was “concerned” by safety minister Mike Penning's indication the government intended to “go beyond the review's recommendations to introduce reforms to make the HSE more commercial in its outlook and delivery.

“We warned about fee for intervention and the government didn't listen. It must not impose further reforms without proper consultation and engagement with stakeholders, including the trade unions. It is vital that workers have a say in any changes to policy and law that affects their lives and livelihoods.”

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At David Cameron’s invitation, a business taskforce has put workplace safety protections at the top of its hit list. The Hazards Campaign says the report by the prime minister’s handpicked team of Big Businessmen is “just another lazy, unevidenced, deadly demand by vested business interests, without consulting any representatives of those harmed by work, to legitimise bad work.”

STOP PRESS! Government to ‘commercialise’ the safety watchdog
The TUC and unions have welcomed the 9 January 2014 recommen- dations of the government-ordered Triennial Review into the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which confirmed the important role the regulator plays in reducing injury and ill health caused by work, concluded it was “fit for purpose” and said it should remain a public body. But its conclusion was exactly what ministers didn’t want to hear, so the government promptly announced it was going to go its own deregulatory way regardless and “commercialise” HSE. More


Also see UK business helps scupper EU safety strategy

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