The phrase “health and safety gone mad” is popular in the media, and the Health and Safety Executive has even set up a Myths Challenge Panel to debunk claims of using health and safety as an excuse for economical decisions or poor customer service.
But contrary to the coalition's view that health and safety binds business up in red tape, the fact is that health and safety legislation has already been cut by half over the past 35 years, simplifying requirements for businesses while maintaining protection for workers and consumers.
Poor safety kills In Bangladesh, the final death toll in the collapse of the factory at Rana Plaza in Dhaka has now been reported as 1,127 people, a completely avoidable human cost.
Despite a warning by the building’s engineer that the factory was unsafe, employers ordered workers into the building and instructed them to ignore the cracks in the walls. All of these causes, from substandard and illegal construction to disregarding
workers’ safety, are widespread in Bangladesh, which now finds itself passing hurried legislation to prevent further disasters.
Coalition cuts
As Bangladesh struggles to improve, Britain’s coalition government has slated the HSE for cuts of up to 35% over three years, and is exempting “low risk” workplaces from routine inspection. The danger of this kind of cut to enforcement is highlighted by the statistic that around 90% of businesses improve their health and safety immediately before or after an HSE inspection.
The most common types of ill-health in these “low risk” workplaces are musculoskeletal disorders and workplace stress, which account for 77% of the 2.1 million people in the UK with a work-related health problem, a number likely to rise with lack of enforcement.
Unison, together with many other labour organisations, opposes these cuts.
Safety reps protect
While Unison has many resources on the importance of health and safety in the workplace, the most important is the health and safety representative in the workplace.  Among other things, reps investigate accidents, perform inspections to ensure  employers are following the law and campaign to raise awareness of hazards.
Employees are 50%  less likely to be injured in a workplace with trade union recognition, and the role of the health and safety rep has become more important in view of the cuts, as employers may put off maintenance or cut back on training. Unison advocates having one rep for every workplace. If you want to make your workplace safer, please consider becoming a health and safety rep. More information can be found at: