25 April 2018
Responding to the Parliamentary Regulatory Reform Committee’s Government Deregulation Agenda Inquiry, the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) has recommended that health and safety legislation is modernised in keeping with an increasingly fragmented workplace.
Authored by Professors Steve Tombs, David Whyte, David Walters and Phil James – who have led the IER’s research into health and safety laws – the submission urges the government to consider reforms that have already been successfully adopted in Australia. In Australia’s 2010 Workplace Health and Safety Act, the primary duty of care is placed on Persons in Control of a Business or Undertaking (PCBUs) rather than employers. This means that where a parent company outsources parts of its operations, it remains liable for health and safety breaches at any ‘place where work is carried out’ and ‘any place where a worker goes, or is likely to be, while at work’, rather than this duty being delegated to third party employers.
“Accordingly, the Act expressly expands the duties of PCBUs to premises that they do not control. Furthermore, it places the obligation to consult workers over health and safety on PCBUs, rather than employers, and makes clear that it extends to all types of workers,” the authors note.
In today’s labour environment, in which a substantial proportion of workers are employed by third party companies, this ensures that health and safety legislation does not become eroded.
Drawing on wide ranging evidence that trade union involvement significantly improves the health and safety of workers, the authors further recommend that PCBUs should be required to consult with trade unions on health and safety matters, and that health and safety representatives are given stronger powers to order the cessation of dangerous work.
Elsewhere, the attitude of the government must be challenged, and legislation that prioritises costs to business above worker and public safety – such as the Business Impact Target, Regulatory Impact Assessments, The Growth Duty, The Primary Authority Scheme, and the One-In One-Out Approach – should be scrapped.
“The claim that regulation of ‘red tape’ prevents business success, and therefore must be eradicated, has been at the heart of UK government policy since at least the mid-1980s. Government initiatives to reduce the ‘burden’ of regulation have given disproportionate weight to the policy aim of reducing regulatory costs to businesses at the expense of worker and public safety,” the authors explain.
“The result is that the UK currently faces an unprecedented deficit in social protection resulting from a combination of: government deregulation initiatives; loss of national and local enforcement capacity; and outsourcing of regulatory responsibility to the private sector.
“The broad deregulation agendas pursued by successive governments have had damaging consequences for social protection in general and the regulation of workplace health and safety in particular.
“Changes to the current framework for regulation in general and for regulating workplace health and safety in particular are urgently needed to address the serious deficits in social protection which we now face. What is needed is political will to take the necessary action.”