Toxic, Corrosive and Hazardous – the Government’s record on health and safety


Toxic, Corrosive and Hazardous – the Government’s record on health and safety

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In May 2010, after a general election that resulted in no party having an overall majority, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government. The programme for the new government was laid out in a coalition document agreed between the two parties. This document made only one reference to health and safety, and that was to make an unspecified change in relation to policing.

Health and safety had only a brief mention in the Conservative manifesto: the party said it would “amend the health and safety laws that stand in the way of common sense policing”, and this was reflected in the Coalition Agreement. There was no mention of health and safety in the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

Since then there has been enormous government attention on health and safety, and almost all of it has been negative. There have been significant cuts in funding, forced cuts in the levels of inspections, a major round of deregulation, and several reviews. All of these have proved very disruptive to the work of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

As a result, the consensus on health and safety that has existed almost unbroken since the 1937 Factories Act has begun to break down. Rather than seeing health and safety legislation as a necessary protection for workers, we have a government that claims it is a “burden on business”.

This report looks at what has happened to our health and safety system in the past four years and the likely effect it will have on people at work.

It shows that since the election the government has:

  • cut state funding of the HSE by over 40 per cent
  • set up three reviews to look at the ‘burden’ of health and safety regulation and another to look at the function of the HSE; these have led to considerable disruption and reductions in protection for workers
  • drastically cut HSE and local authority inspections
  • blocked any new regulations and removed a number of existing protections
  • ditched important Codes of Practice
  • cut the level of support and guidance available to employers and health and safety representatives
  • changed what employers have to report, undermining the amount of knowledge that we have on levels of injury and illness
  • drastically cut the HSE’s work on occupational health issues
  • blocked new initiatives from Europe and attempted to reduce existing protection
  • made it much harder for workers to claim compensation after they are injured or made ill
  • undermined the independence of the HSE.

The report also shows that these are having, and will continue to have, a significant effect on the health of workers.