What are we to make of David Cameron’s pre-election rhetoric about introducing changes to how the government handles health and safety issues?
Prior to the general election, David Cameron stated, “something EDP Health, Safety & Environment, The Conservative Manifesto 2010has gone seriously wrong with the spirit of health and safety over the last decade”. He also said, “an ‘over-the-top’ health and safety culture has become embedded in the national way of life”.
More recently, the Prime Minister reiterated similar sentiments in the words, “The rise of the compensation culture over the last 10 years is a real concern, as is the way health and safety rules are sometimes applied.” He then went on to say, “We need a sensible new approach that makes clear these laws are intended to protect people, not overwhelm businesses with red tape.”
Lord Young of Graffham is to head up a review. In regard to health and safety, Lord Young is quoted as saying, “Health and Safety regulation is essential in some industries but may well have been applied too generally and have become an unnecessary burden on firms, but also community organisations and public services. I hope my review will reintroduce an element of common sense and focus the regulation where it is most needed.”
A decade ago, the Health and Safety Executive could be expected to turn up at the average UK workplace once every few years. But unpublished official figures obtained by Hazards show workplaces are now lucky to see the pared back watchdog once in a working lifetime.
Unison have been campaigning on this. They say the HSE by 2008 have lost around 17% of the staff it had in 2002.
Surveys consistently show that the HSE as one of the most highly regarded public bodies amongst members of the public, employees and employers. HSE is also internationally respected for its expertise on health and safety and has provided a model for many other countries. It produces authoritative advice and guidance, quality research, and a first class forensic capability when things go wrong such as
Buncefield. They have experts in engineering, nuclear safety, occupational health and so on. But many specialist skills are facing severe shortage, as HSE is unable to recruit at market levels and can no longer afford to maintain its expertise.
The HSE uses a range of techniques to remove risks from the workplace, and to improve the way health and safety is managed. They prefer to get voluntary compliance but when that does not work they can force changes. They also take action when things go wrong and prosecute for serious breaches of the law. Simply put: they save lives!
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