Workplace injuries cost billions and ruin lives, but this government is determined to rollback vital health and safety laws

Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors

The ground-breaking Health and Safety at Work Act is 40 years old and there has been a lot of progress over the years which should be celebrated. Britain is one of the safest countries in the world for workers and HSE statistics show that fatalities at work are on the decline.

 

But there is no cause to rest on our laurels. The most recent statistics show that for those 133 workers who were killed last year and anyone who took any of the 28.2 million working days lost to work-related ill health or injury, injury, ill-health and death at work are not a thing of the past.

 

As those concerned with improving the statistics further reflect on the successful impact of the Act over the years, this government is moving health and safety backwards. It’s now de rigueur for Tory MPs and ministers (ably assisted by their Lib Dem stooges and their mates in the media) to lampoon health and safety and dismiss anything associated with it as “red tape”.

 

Any death and any injury at work is a tragedy. At Thompsons we know how unnecessary and how avoidable they almost always are. Avoidance isn’t rocket science, it’s often blindingly basic.

 

No government should rest on its laurels. Certainly, no government should take action that could risk a deterioration in health and safety and yet that’s exactly what we are witnessing. It’s a dismissive arrogance of the worst kind.

 

It appears that laws introduced and respected by the courts since the times of the Victorian factory can be thrown aside. Strict Liability can be junked and self-employed workers removed from health and safety laws. Written agreements with insurers to stitch up mesothelioma sufferers and their families (over 2,500 people died of the fatal cancer mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos last year) are pushed through parliament. Misstating the words of the Professor you appoint to review health and safety is fine if you can get away with it (which thankfully due to some good old fashioned leaking they haven’t).

 

The insurers are happy (a billion £’s in dividends from two car insurers when there’s meant to be a so-called whiplash fraud ‘crisis’). Lawyers being slapped down and straight jacketed into deals that limit their ability to get the maximum amount of compensation is dressed up for the media as a great advance. The judicial establishment get their wish for injured people to ‘have some skin in the game’ – i.e. face deductions from compensation to pay their lawyers – and all the while backbenchers can belittle and scoff and make health and safety a joke. You can even feed them red meat by seeking to blame it all on those pesky Europeans.

 

At a time when the battle for proper health and safety is gradually being won the last thing we need is a government more concerned with winning favourable headlines in tabloids and currying favour with powerful corporate interest groups than taking proactive steps to ensure that workplace injury and ill-health really become things of the past. But that’s what we’ve got and the battle goes on.

 

 

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