Tuesday, December 06, 2011

SERTUC Health & Safety Seminar 2011

This seminar in Congress House had Hugh Robertson (TUC) and Judith Hackitt (HSE) speaking and was chaired by SERTUC regional
secretary, Megan Dobney (right of picture).

Hugh made the case that under this government, the cuts to the HSE and getting rid of essential safety enforcement and regulations, will lower standards and result in more work related accidents and illnesses.

In the Q&A that followed I said that things are very depressing but trying to make a small positive out of a huge negative - the best safety protection at work comes from trade union organisation. Many workers currently have completely unrealistic expectations of their legal rights and safeguards. We have to tell them that they will have even less rights in the future. So to protect themselves at work they must join a union and the union must recruit and organise the workforce to make things safe.

Judith accepted that there was unprecedented change but that the cuts do not have to mean that people will be less safe. The HSE is going to try and cut the backroom not the front line. Reviews can be a good thing. The aim is to remove unnecessary bureaucracy not protection. 

In the Q&A there was some "heated" comments which as usual Judith took on the chin and batted straight back. Megan had to remind people that they were "entitled to make forceful statements but must remember to remain on the right side of civility" (a wonderful Chair's intervention which I will steal). Judith did speak out against low fines for criminal breaches of safety laws. She would rather that there was much higher fines but that is the job of the Courts. She thought it was a disgrace that the death of a member of the public was worth more than a worker. She ended by saying the HSE were "not the enemy". That is true. 

While I do expect more people to be injured at work (and worse) due to the Tory and Lib Dem cuts in the HSE budget and the getting rid of essential protections, we have to blame the coalition and not the civil servants. Who at times have to implement and defend the indefensible.

I will post later on the Lofstedt report.


Anonymous said...

jYour blog relates to protection of workers, you seem to think businesses would delibratly want a fatality or injury on their hands. You should apologise for this remark.

As a small business, I risk everything including my home. Unlike the bankers, if my business goes bust, I loose my home.

As a small business, I do not get any special tax breaks, in fact I pay the same tax rate as a waged worker. This does not seem fair, when you consider, owners risk everything.

When there is a fatality or injury, the reliance on criminal sanctions resulting in results in business owners personally facing a criminal record even though, there has been no fault on the part of the owner, for instance an employee has failed to follow procedures etc...

Often it means there is no need for the prosecutor to prove that the offence was committed deliberately or even negligently.

The occurrence of an event, for example an accident, may be enough to establish guilt.

Provisions under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 allow owners, individual directors, managers or others in control to be convicted as individuals if they consented, connived or were negligent in the commissioning of the offence by the Company.

The penalties can be substantial - imprisonment in the worst cases and fines (which are a personal liability) can run into tens of thousands of pounds plus costs.

More importantly the damage to reputation and the stress brought on business owners considering their personal position during in-depth and lengthy investigations by the regulators.

John Gray said...

Hi Anon
I’ve looked again at this post again and cannot understand why anyone would think that I posted that “businesses would delibratly want a fatality or injury on their hands”. This is simply rubbish.

The overwhelming majority of businesses do not want to kill or injure people. However, 20-50,000 people in this country die prematurely, every single year, from work related accidents or illnesses. Some 1.3 million suffer serious work related ill health.

The majority of these deaths and ill health are not blame free “accidents” or just “bad luck” but due to criminal negligence or recklessness by employers..

Let me be clear, if there is “no proof“ or “no fault” by an employer, then of course they will not be held responsible?

Only a complete idiot (aka Daily Mail reporter/tax evaders alliance) would think otherwise.

By reducing enforcement and regulation I think that this government will undermine decent employers who want to protect their workers and encourage the cowboys and those who don’t give a damn about their employees or the public either.