Trade unions have reacted angrily to Tory peer Lord Young’s review of health and safety.
The RMT transport union said that his report ‘is a hatchet-job based on prejudice that will do nothing to reduce workplace injuries, deaths and industrial disease’.
An RMT statement at the weekend added: ‘Under cover of simplifying the regime, freeing businesses from “unnecessary bureaucratic burdens” and ending a “compensation culture” that does not exist, the real aim of the report is to pave the way for a slashing of health and safety budgets.’
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: ‘There are already so few inspectors out there that a workplace can expect to be visited only once in four decades, and it is already notoriously difficult to get a successful prosecution of bosses whose negligence causes injury, death or disease at work.
‘The most conservative estimate is that 200,000 people a year suffer occupational ill-health, and even the CBI accepts that some 30 million working days are lost to work-related accidents or illness each year.
‘Yet the moment Lord Young was given the brief to review Britain’s health and safety regime he began ridiculing it, criticising the mythical “compensation culture” and wheeling out “health-and-safety-gone-mad” stories.
‘RMT members have faced avoidable disasters including Piper Alpha, King’s Cross, Zeebrugge, Tebay and far too many rail crashes, as well as the risk of chronic ill-health and assault, and they are keenly aware of the need for robust health and safety protection.
‘Any weakening of an already weak regime will only undermine what little protection workers have from corner-cutting bosses for whom profit comes ahead of safety.’
The GMB union warned: ‘The proposal to limit the personal injury compensation to victims of road traffic accidents at £25,000 will need some explaining to victims of negligent drivers perhaps disabled for life as we can see what is in this for insurance companies but cannot see what is in it for the public or workers.’
John McClean, GMB National Health and Safety Officer, said: ‘We have arrived at the current regulatory regime along a road built on the blood, broken bones and deaths of workers and the public and attempts to undermine or trivialise this is not just a mistake it is also insulting.
‘Overall this review is very much a missed opportunity. Many of Lord Young’s recommendations have already been implemented, and the review fails to tackle the key issues. But there are some positives.
‘GMB is pleased that Lord Young recognises the value of the Health and Safety at Work Act, and the importance of the HSE and Local Authorities in enforcing the Act. The government should take full account of this in next week’s spending review.
‘The GMB welcome regulation of “claims farmers” whose actions only steal from those already suffering.
‘The GMB welcome moves to clarify risk assessment and consent issues in schools.
‘The GMB supports combining health and safety inspections with food safety inspections, so long as non-food workplaces continue to be inspected by Local Authority officers.
‘Much of the review however, fails to deliver.
‘In particular: The GMB disputes the idea that shops, offices and schools should be subject to lesser scrutiny.
‘There are serious injuries caused by violence, slips & trips and transport accidents that must be tackled, not ignored.
‘Workers in these sectors should enjoy the same protections as in every other sector.
‘Fining councils for banning events will be counterproductive and a waste of resources during a time of heavy cuts in Local Authorities.
‘A single set of regulations covering the whole range of workplace hazards is unworkable. The risks are too disparate to be covered in one place.
‘Changing the accident reporting criteria from three days to seven days will only serve to take a huge number of injuries out of the official statistics.
‘Unfortunately, none of the recommendations in this report will have the slightest impact on the thousands of work-related deaths and injuries in the UK each year.’
Public sector union Unison warned that Young’s review ‘failed to distinguish between the very real problems of health and safety at work and the “ambulance chasers” who try to make money from peoples’ misfortune.’
The union said that many of the proposals in the report had nothing to do with occupational health and safety.
And, where they do relate to workplace health and safety, the more practical ones either already exist or are in the process of being developed. (e.g. online risk assessment tool, register of consultants etc).
Unison Health and Safety Hope Daley said: ‘Lord Young has missed the opportunity to tackle the myths circulated about occupational health and safety which is damaging to both employers and employees.
‘Many of these myths have taken root because of the ambulance chasers who seek to make money out of peoples’ misfortune. This simple failure could turn back the clock on health and safety and increase the number of accidents and injury to workers.
‘Despite the review, Lord Young shows no awareness of the problems caused by occupational ill health and no real understanding of the level of injury or ill health in schools, classrooms or offices.
‘Schools and offices have very high levels of stress related illness, and many people suffer from arm, back and neck injuries.
‘Between them these are responsible for around three quarters of work related sickness absence.
‘This report is really only interested in freeing business from bureaucratic burdens and disregards the value of workers’ health and safety.’
Commenting on the report which Young titles ‘Common Sense, Common Safety’, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers said: ‘It will be Lord Young’s proposals, not the current health and safety rules, that will discourage school trips.
‘It is just not true to say risk assessments prevent trips taking place. To say that teachers shouldn’t consider risks before taking children and young people out on trips just seems absurd.
‘We don’t want to see teachers filling in reams of forms for the sake of it, but I’m sure most teachers would agree that you have to consider in advance what might go wrong and take precautions.
‘The point of risk assessments is to make sure the systems and arrangements will be safe, not to limit compensation claims.
‘While we agree there is sometimes excessive and unnecessary bureaucracy involved, the answer is not to remove it, but to ensure risk assessment is done well and efficiently.
‘Teachers and parents will be alarmed at the prospect of abolishing the Adventure Activities Licensing Scheme (AALS) and replacing it with a voluntary code of practice.
‘This will not offer sufficient guarantee that centres are well run and safe.
‘This is not a question of health and safety “gone mad”. If cowboy operations start up, pupils’ health and lives are at risk.’
The TUC estimates that more than 20,000 people die as a result of work each year.
The official HSE statistic, 151 workplace deaths for the year 2009-2010, does not include work-related deaths on the roads; work-related suicides; work-related deaths in the rail industry, and critically, deaths caused by occupational illness.