Tory Minister for employment Chris Grayling has announced a major assault on health and safety at work.
He said, “We need common sense at the heart of the system, and these measures will help root out the needless burden of bureaucracy.”
The bosses’ CBI group called the planned changes “sensible”, adding, “These proposals should inject some common sense into health and safety regulation.”
In reality, profits will officially and legally be put before workers’ safety. This is an attack on workers’ rights built up over generations.
Grayling has three main aims. He announced a review of all health and safety legislation, to report back by the autumn. It is clear that the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act is under real threat.
The Act enshrines in law some rights of health and safety reps at work. It became law as a reflection of the massive workers’ struggles of the early 1970s.
The Tory right wing has always wanted to roll back workers’ gains. Thatcher tried to abolish the government watchdog, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), three times—but failed on every occasion. Now they are trying again.
The HSE is being cut by 35 percent. Over 700 jobs are set to go, and some 200 went last month.
In the construction sector, one of the most hazardous industries, there is a 20 percent cut in staff to carry out inspections.
On top of the cut in funding, Grayling has now announced that HSE will reduce inspections by a third—that’s 11,000 fewer workplace inspections per year.
Extreme hazard industries, like the nuclear, chemical and oil industries, will continue to be inspected, but in essense they will be self-regulated.
For the rest of industry, HSE will continue to inspect “high hazard” sectors such as construction.
But huge swathes of workplaces, including factories and dockyards among others, will not be inspected at all.
Employers will be overjoyed that there will never be a prospect of an inspector appearing to check up on them.
The government is already carrying out a review of RIDDOR—the regulations that govern the reporting of workplace accidents.
Since 1985 employers have been required, by law, to report to the HSE workplace ill health or accidents that result in absence from work for over three days.
The Tories want to extend the reporting requirement to seven days.
But now the government wants HSE to charge employers for time spent on inspections and accident investigations.
The HSE estimates that
50 percent of workplace accidents are never reported.
How many more employers will hide accidents if they think they will be charged for the investigation? Grayling also trumpetted a crackdown on “rogue health and safety consultants”, but this is a con.
The register for consultants is entirely voluntary and run by the consultants themselves.
The trade union movement has a major political battle on its hands.
For all their faults, the HSE and the Health and Safety at Work Act represent an important principle—that employers have a legal duty to protect those they employ.
The withering away of the HSE means that the thousands of workplace health and safety reps must prepare to fight ever more strongly to ensure that deaths and injuries don’t rise on the back of the Tories’ onslaught.