Health and Safety Update 2016: London

Submitted by sglenister on Wed, 02/11/2016 - 16:32

02 November 2016

By Andrew Moretta, World of Work PhD student, The University of Liverpool

Andrew Moretta, a delegate at the Institute of Employment Rights' Health and Safety Update 2016 conference in London on October 18 2016 reports on what he took away from the event.

In a brief opening speech Carolyn Jones, IER Director, reminded us of the around 28 million working days that are lost each year as a consequence of accidents at work, and that the economic and human cost of illness caused by poor working practices is a huge and eminently preventable burden on the NHS, and on victims and their families. She argued that the concerted assault mounted by government and employers’ organisations over the last 15 or so years against health and safety regulation has provided a short-term profit to a very few wealthy individuals at the expense of workers, and the long-term prosperity of the nation.

To these ends, they have cut both regulation and the budget of the Health and Safety Executive to the bone. They are dispensing with the tripartite governance of the Executive, filling vacant seats on the board with those aligned to business interests. Local Authority Environmental Health Officers have been stripped of funding and power. Workplace inspection is close to non existent. The weakening of workers’ protection has been compounded by the bogus self-employment of the 'gig economy', and by legislative confusion over responsibility for workplace health and safety.

Carolyn concluded by warning that 'Brexit' provides the opportunity for further attacks upon health and safety, and on labour rights in general, pointing out that the IER Manifesto for Labour Law, effectively the Labour Party's industrial relations policy, contains (at 4.17 to 4.21), a series of proposals for the reform of the governance of health and safety in the workplace.

Dave Smith, Blacklisting Support Group: 'Blacklisted'

Dave opened his presentation by paying tribute to Keith Ewing and John Hendy for their contributions to the blacklisting campaign, directing us to Ewing's 2009 publication "Ruined Lives", which he said became a 'template for action' for the Blacklisting Support Group.

He recalled his years as a construction worker, his experience of being denied work as a result of his position as a safety rep for UCATT in 1998, and the 2009 discovery of the files of the Consulting Association which had since 1964, in connivance with big construction firms like McAlpines and Carrillion, complied files on union and health and safety activists, and ensured that they were excluded from the industry. Dave described the subsequent implementation of the Blacklisting Regulations in 2010, and the eventual 2016 award of an estimated £75 to £250 million pounds for compensation for those 'ruined lives', following a dramatic case at the High Court.

Blacklisting still goes on, although the Health and Safety Executive show little interest in the practice. Dave told us of the cases exposed by dismissals of workers on the Crossrail Project, of the 'Not Required Back' lists circulating in the North Sea Oil industry, and of the suspicions of many familiar with working practices in retail, banking and the airlines that blacklists are circulating.

This is an extraordinary and disturbing story, and the superb book Dave wrote about these matters with Phil Chamberlain Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists, published by New Internationalist, is recommended.

Tom Jones, Solicitor and Head of Policy at Thompsons – 'Small Claims, Big Impact'

Tom is a personal injury specialist and he brought the attention of the conference to attempts by the insurance industry to deny victims of accidents access to justice.

The insurance industry is a big contributor to the Tory Party, and is lobbying the government to increase the ceiling for small claims in personal injury cases from £1,000 to £5,000. In small claims cases, a successful claimant cannot recover the cost of legal representation from the defendant. 80% of all PI claims are for less than £5,000, and the free legal representation offered to members and their families by trade unions is dependent on recovering the cost of representation.

This is just one element of a campaign being conducted by the insurance industry focused largely on road traffic accidents. Pleading a fictional 'compensation culture', and a non-existent rash of fraudulent claims reminiscent of employers' organisations promotion of false stories of oppressive health and safety enforcement, the hugely rich insurers pretend that they are on the brink of a crisis. This contrived crisis has been cited as justification for the recent substantial increases in car insurance premiums.

Raising the small claims limit would not only save insurers huge sums in legal costs paid to successful claimants, but would cut claims across the board, and allow more scope for them to 'guide' unrepresented claimants, denied access to expert legal advice and a grasp of the likely potential size of their claim, towards settling on the insurer's terms.

Instead of being able to rely on their union, members who had suffered personal injury would be likely to find themselves dealing with 'no win no fee' lawyers chasing a cut of their compensation, sometimes seemingly anxious to settle at the first opportunity, and to move on to the next case, whether the arrangement secures them a fixed fee or a percentage of the award.

Tom recommended that delegates write to their MPs to voice their opposition to an increase in the personal injury small claims court limit.

Tom Jones, Thompsons Solicitors
Small Claims Big Impact
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See also:
Cut Premiums Now
Small Claims Big Impact
Facebook: ‘Small Claims Big Impact.’
Twitter #ProtectSmallClaims.

Professor David Walters of the Cardiff Work Environment Research Centre: 'Labour inspection and health and safety in the EU'

David focused on regional approaches to inspection, providing a very valuable context for the increasingly catastrophic UK experience. He explained that two main approaches evolved from the British Factory Acts of the early 19th Century, and from ILO Convention No.81 - the 'generalist', and the 'specialist'. The former involves comprehensive labour inspections, and is common in central and southern Europe. It embraces wages, and certain terms and conditions of employment, as well as health and safety. The latter is the narrow Scandinavian and British approach. Germany employs a dual system, with the state making labour inspections, and insurers making health and safety inspections. There are regional variations in Spain and in Germany.

In the UK, local authority Environmental Health Officers have responsibility for inspections of low-risk industries, while the Health and Safety Executive has responsibility for high-risk sectors. In Italy their Health and Safety Executive deals with construction, while local authorities have responsibility for almost everything else. In most of Europe, the inspectorate is a separate profession and distinct from the civil servants who administer the system.

David told us that all of Europe has fallen victim to varying degrees of 'better regulation', of 'business friendly' state reduction of regulation, although the UK 'undoubtedly leads the way'. Even in states not hit by the recent financial crisis there has been a retreat from previous comparatively strict standards. This relaxation has been compounded by increased sub contracting, and more 'hard to reach' workers. Immigration has added to the numbers of undeclared and undocumented workers. Efforts to reach these workers with advice and guidance have largely been motivated by a desire to increase state revenues - in Poland the numbers of Labour Inspectors 'grew substantially' between 2002 and 2009, and in Ireland the numbers of Health and Safety officers nearly doubled between 2003 and 2007.

Professor David Walters, Cardiff University
Labour inspection and OSH in Europe and UK
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Hilda Palmer, co-founder of the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, and chair of the UK National Hazards Campaign: 'Will there be health, safety or justice at work by 2020?'

Hilda gave an account of the wide ranging post-2010 attacks on health and safety and access to justice. She told us that health and safety has been turned over to big business as we go beyond neo-liberalism into what she terms 'neo-feudalism'. She told us that the message fed to the country is that all work is good work, that working long hours is virtuous, that resilience, not decent work, is what the workforce requires. Hilda argued that poor work, and insecure jobs are worse than no jobs at all, that the massive but entirely preventable work-related component in national ill health is ignored at massive human and financial cost to the nation.

She concluded that there will be no health and safety or justice at work in 2020 unless we challenge the lies propagated by these neo-feudalists, and 'organise, protest, agitate and educate'. There should be less talk of 'partnership' and 'co-operation', and more about resistance. Health and safety is not a burden on business. Strong laws and trade unions active in the workplace will deliver effective health and safety as well as prosperity.

Hilda Palmer, Hazards
Will there be any health, safety or justice at work by 2020?
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See also:
UK Hazards Campaign
Facebook: ‘We didn’t vote to die at work.’
Twitter @hazardscampaign; @HildaPalmer
Hazards Magazine

Susan Murray, Health and Safety Adviser for Unite: 'H&S, challenges and opportunities in the workplace'

Susan focused on Britain's biggest industrial killer – asbestos. An estimated 5,000 people a year are killed here as a consequence of inhaling asbestos fibres, and Britain has the highest incidence of asbestos-related deaths in the world. The TUC has mounted a campaign seeking to eradicate asbestos in the workplace, and the Joint Union Asbestos Committee has done a great deal of work on asbestos in schools – children are still exposed to asbestos fibres today, and some will die as a result. The mineral has been banned but its use in building from the late 19th Century until the 1970s means that it remains a problem.

Susan reported cross party consensus in the UK on the menace posed by asbestos. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health are in favour of ridding the country of asbestos, although the political right appears more inclined merely to leave it where it is rather than eradicate it. On the international plane the Rotterdam Convention provides the focus for attempts to bring about a world wide ban, shamefully resisted by seven states with profitable asbestos industries, notably India and the Russian Federation.

Susan presented an extremely interesting, and at times shocking talk, and provided delegates with a number of thought provoking publications.

Susan Murray, Unite
H&S, challenges and opportunities in the workplace
Download presentation

See also:
British Asbestos Newsletter
TUC Asbestos
Joint Union Asbestos Committee
Rotterdam Convention

Professor Steve Tombs, Open University: 'Making 'Better Regulation': the assault on health and safety protection'

Steve examined the Orwellian concept of 'better regulation', mentioned by Davis Walters, and shared some of the startling results of his exhaustive research with us in a fast-paced presentation.

He gave us an overview of the continuous reviews chipping away at regulation, quietly pioneered by New Labour, and championed by the Tories and Liberal Democrats, described the emerging role of 'effective inspection and enforcement' in regulatory intervention, and the imposition of a health and safety 'growth duty', aimed at generating short-term profit for employers at the expense of the lives of workers. He backed his observations with a series of startling statistics on the decline in local authority inspections and prosecutions during 2003-2015 relating to health and safety as well as food safety, and air pollution control, and the despairing observations of those with responsibility for what passes for inspection and enforcement.

Steve argued that the extraordinary 'Primary Authority Scheme', introduced in 2009, encapsulates this concept of better regulation. Overseen by the Better Regulation Delivery Office, the PA scheme has emerged as the model for much local authority regulation, including health and safety. It permits firms with sites in more than one local authority area to select a local authority to negotiate a 'partnership' deal with, placing authorities under pressure to relax already minimal standards in order to attract and keep 'customer' firms. Inspections are out, and check lists and form filling, are in. Extraordinarily, Primary Authorities intending to prosecute are obliged to warn the firm, which can then request that the BRDO halt the prosecution. Essentially firms buying into the PA scheme are hoping to buy off the threat of local authority enforcement action, and the income stream created makes Better Regulation a ripe candidate for outsourcing and privatisation – the ultimate corporate capture of health and safety.

Steve Tombs, Open University
Making ‘Better Regulation’: the assault on health and safety protection
Download presentation

See also:
Better Regulation Briefing

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