Govt risks repeat of Liverpool crane collapse with promises of deregulation

Submitted by sglenister on Fri, 11/05/2012 - 16:08

On the very day two construction companies were found guilty of causing serious injury to the operator of a crane that collapsed in the centre of Liverpool, the government pledged to undermine the law that brought them to justice.

The Institute of Employment Rights (IER) is warning that the coalition’s supposed aim to ‘cut red tape’ could put thousands of workers in danger of injury and disease in the name of populist politics and tabloid myths that have no bearing on reality.

Liverpool crane collapse of 2009

In July 2009, Iain Gillham of Whiston was paralysed from the waist down when he was thrown from the crane he was driving. The 200-tonne machinery then toppled on to Chandlers Wharf apartment block, forcing over 100 people to abandon their homes.

It is an incident that has remained fresh in the minds of Liverpool residents and a reminder of how dangerous construction jobs can be, but the coalition has made it clear that its priorities lie not with protecting workers, but with giving businesses an easy ride.

On Wednesday (May 9th), Liverpool Crown Court found Bowmer and Kirkland Ltd and Bingham Davis guilty of breaching health and safety laws and putting the people of Liverpool as well as Mr Gillham in serious danger.

But on the same day, the regulatory framework that makes firms accountable for tragedies like the crane collapse was put under threat when the Queen announced in her speech to parliament that “legislation will be introduced to reduce burdens on business by repealing unnecessary legislation and to limit state inspection of businesses”.

Health and safety experts speak out

This came as depressing news to delegates attending the IER’s Reviewing Lofstedt: What Now for Health and Safety at Work? conference in London.

Experts at the event highlighted how the Health and Safety Executive is already becoming what Hilda Palmer, of The Hazards Campaign and a speaker at the conference, described as a “reactive rump”.

Inspection numbers are falling and the government is avoiding its responsibility to protect its citizens by absurdly describing workplaces like docks and airfields as “low risk”. This is despite the fact the fatality rate at docks are up to 20 times the national average!*

Professor Ragnar Lofstedt, author of the government’s 2011 independent review into health and safety law “Reclaiming health and safety for all”, was the keynote speaker at the event. He expressed his anger at the way the government has misconstrued his recommendation to consolidate legislation by 35% as a call for a 50% cut. This, he said, would be an unwise and dangerous move for Britain’s workers.

Carolyn Jones, Director at the Institute of Employment Rights, warned:

“The people have been misled, not only by sensationalist and frequently untrue tabloid headlines but also by the government itself, to believe that health and safety law has gone too far. In fact, the opposite is happening. For years, inspections of workplaces have been falling and in some sectors – including hazardous workplaces like docks – it takes the death of a worker for an inspector to enter the area and make it safe. That is an absurd situation and promotes the message that workers’ lives are expendable and valued less by our leaders than appeasing a group of voters who have been lied to by the right-wing press.

“The tragic crane collapse in the centre of Liverpool two years ago is a reminder to us all that when companies cut corners, they can put their staff at serious risk. Businesses need guidance on keeping their employees safe and regulations are vital to help them provide a low-risk environment for their workers.”

IER to hold health and safety conference in Liverpool

The IER will be holding a second Reviewing Lofstedt event at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool on May 22nd 2012. Speakers will include academics, lawyers and trade union representatives and the conference is likely to spark as lively a debate as it did in London.

Information on how to book a place at the event can be found here.

END

Notes to Editors:

About the IER

The Institute of Employment Rights was established in February 1989 as an independent organisation to act as a focal point for the spread of new ideas in the field of labour law. In 1994 the Institute became a registered charity.

Our aim is to provide a wide variety of high quality publications which we hope will stimulate debate and analysis about employment law policies and legal developments in industrial relations.

The results of the work of the Institute are published in booklets available for sale or through annual subscription. The Institute also provides short articles (free of legal jargon) for trade union journals and other popular publications. We organise conferences and seminars on topics of particular importance and hold occasional lectures.

Reviewing Lofstedt: What Now for Health and Safety at Work? Liverpool Event

This one-day conference will be held on Tuesday 22nd May 2012 between 09:30 and 15:30 at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool.

Speakers will include:

David Whyte, Liverpool University

James Taylor, Vice Chair of Prospect HSE Branch

George Guy, UCATT

Philip Liptrot, Thompsons Solicitors

Professor Andrew Watterson, University of Stirling

Susan Murray, UNITE Health and Safety Officer

Daniel Shears, GMB National Health and Safety Officer

Please find more information about the event here.

Reviewing Lofstedt: What Now for Health and Safety at Work? London Event

This event took place at NUT Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London, WC1H 9BD from 09:30 to 15:45 on Wednesday May 9th.

Speakers were:

Professor Ragnar Lofstedt

David Whyte, Liverpool University

Steve Cottingham, O H Parsons Solicitors

Hugh Robertson, TUC Senior Policy Officer for Health and Safety

Professor Andrew Watterson, University of Stirling

Daniel Shears, GMB National Health and Safety Officer

Hilda Palmer, Hazards Campaign

Their presentations are now available on the IER website here.

*Hazards Campaign statistics, as presented at the Reviewing Lofstedt event on May 9th

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