29 November 2011
The workplace is too often the source of ill-health warns the Institute of Employment Rights
The Institute of Employment Rights has produced a Briefing in response to Dame Carol Black’s Review of the Health of Britain’s Working Age Population. The Black Review, announced in October 2007, was hailed as “the first ever review of the health of the working age population”. At the launch of the Review, Peter Hain MP said its aim was to “address how we can improve people’s health and support them to stay in or return to work”
In submitting evidence to the Review, the Institute of Employment Rights argues that by focusing policy initiatives on ways of reducing the numbers out of work and in receipt of benefits, the government is downplaying the role of the workplace as a source of ill health and labour market inequality. According to figures quoted in the Briefing, over 600,000 new cases of work-related ill health occur each year. More importantly, the IER claims that evidence suggests that a substantial proportion of the current health-related economic inactivity continues to be the outcome of failures to protect worker health at workplace level.
The Institute then considers the problems and policy options under five main headings:
· Compliance with existing legal requirements:
· Financial incentives to ensure employers comply with their duties
· Provision of an occupational health infrastructure and of “good work”
· Extending the rights of worker representatives.
· Dealing with the challenges posed by agency and outsourced work
According to the Institute, the first step to improving the health of workers is to ensure that current health and safety duties are enforced –something unlikely to be achieved while the resources to the enforcement agencies are being reduced. Similarly, the Institute argues that the current trend towards devoting more resources to educational and awareness raising activities and less to inspections and enforcement will fail to deliver results.
Professor Phil James from Oxford Brookes University and one of the authors of the Briefing noted:
The existing evidence indicates that a much more productive approach to reducing levels of work-related ill health and related job loss is likely to be found in a significant expansion in inspector numbers and a corresponding rise in compliance based actions
The Institute also argues for stronger financial incentive on employers. Under the current system, the health of workers is inadequately protected and it is “the polluted” rather than “the polluter” who bears the financial consequences in terms of medical treatment and income loss. Moreover the tax payer often carries the burden of illness and injuries at work. By revisiting the terms of the employer’s liability insurance and the industrial injuries disablement schemes, the Institute believes a more equitable solution can be found taht will provide employers with increased incentives to protect worker health.
In addition, due to the strong evidence of the positive effect of health and safety representatives on improving health and safety at work (despite the decline in trade union membership), the Institute supports the TUC’s call for extended rights for safety reps and rights for reps to issue formal notices.
Professor David Walters from Cardiff University and co-author of the Briefing said:
If the Government is serious about supporting an improvement in health at work, they should promote and extend the rights of trade union health and safety representatives. Reps are a powerful resource, particularly at this time when other support such as those provided by the HSE inspectors and occupational health services are relatively few and diminishing.
Finally, the Institute calls for the introduction of legal requirements requiring all employers to have access to multidisciplinary occupational health services that can support the provision of “good jobs” that are not harmful to workers. At the same time, acknowledging the reality of the current labour market, with its abundance of small businesses, agency work and the outsourcing of activities to small, profit-orientated organisations, IER further suggests that in such situations these services could be provided by local, perhaps sectoral based bodies, funded by employer contributions.
Carolyn Jones, Director of the Institute said:
Such a move towards sectoral support would produce a win-win solution. It would benefit small employers who may struggle to understand and manage complex areas of law; benefit trade unions who face difficulties servicing small, isolated groups of members and benefit society as the health of the working age population improves in the face of improved working practices.
1. Information on Dame Carol Black’s Review can be found “here“http://www.workingforhealth.gov.uk/Carol-Blacks-Review/Default.aspx. The call for evidence closes on 30th November 2007
2. The TUC’s response to the Review can be seen here