IER Briefing: Health and Safety Gone Mad?

Submitted by Anonymous on Wed, 11/08/2010 - 14:55

In response to the ConDem government commitment to two reviews of regulation, the Institute produced a briefing paper . The briefing was produced by 2 health and safety specialists in regulation, Prof Steve Tombs and Dr David Whyte who author the groundbreaking IER publication Regulatory Surrender: Death, injury and the non-enforcement of the law

The first of the 2 reviews is being run by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, under the stewardship of Vince Cable. Cable noted on launching the review: “The deluge of new regulations have been choking off enterprise for too long. We must move away from the view that they only way to solve problems is to regulate.” (DBIS Press Release, 2nd June 2010) This review began with the announcement that a ‘Reducing Regulation Committee’ would be set up in the Cabinet Office to review regulation with a view to abolishing red tape, government Departments would be barred from introducing new regulations unless they had abolished one, and social and environmental goals would be met by encouraging corporate social responsibility rather than regulating.

The second is led by Margaret Thatcher’s former Trade and Industry Secretary Lord Young. The Young review is charged with investigating “concerns over the application and perception of health and safety legislation, together with the rise of compensation culture over the last decade.” (Number 10 Press Release, 17th June, 2010).

“Safety enforcement: parlous state”

The authors conclude that the HSE’s regulatory approach has been repositioned to accommodate neo-liberal, business-friendly values to the point that it is now unable to maintain a credible threat of enforcement:

“There could be no worse time for safety enforcement to have reached this parlous state. Whatever the findings of the Cable and Young Reviews, it is at least certain these will not result in the bolstering of safety enforcement – most likely, of course, quite the opposite. And regulation in general will come under further attack: in a political and popular climate in which the idea of health and safety gone mad’ predominates, HSE will be a prime target for budget cuts, which will no doubt impact further upon its ability to fulfil its role.”

Tombs and Whyte conclude:
“This is a crisis to which the trade unions must respond, for in weakening the position of workers to work for the improvement of safety, it also undermines the ability of workers to organise effectively.”

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