NASUWT: Government puts profits before worker safety

The NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, has condemned the assault on workplace health and safety provisions by the Coalition Government, which it believes is putting worker’s lives and wellbeing at risk.

Budget cuts to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the scrapping of health and safety legislation, the watering down of workplace safety inspections and the trivialising of the importance of health and safety are all conspiring to leave workers more vulnerable to illness, accidents and injuries, the NASUWT has told the TUC Congress in Brighton.

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said:

“No case has been made for the attack the Coalition Government has launched on health and safety provisions.

“This is another ideologically driven policy of the Coalition Government, where hard fact and evidence are, quite frankly, ignored.

“The Coalition Government has consistently sought to portray the health and safety system as bureaucratic and burdensome for employers, rather than acknowledging the importance of keeping workers safe and healthy.

“The drive to deregulate health and safety is a return to the dark ages when the lives of working people had no value.”

Mick Lyons, NASUWT Senior Vice President, addressed Congress, warning of the impact of the attack on health and safety in schools. He said:

“The existing School Premises Regulations and guidance have been developed to ensure that all school premises are safe and fit for purpose, providing good-quality learning environments for pupils.

“Proposed changes to the regulations and removal of guidance will result in deterioration in the quality of learning environments in schools, which will in turn impact negatively on pupils’ educational attainment.

“Health and safety regulations were hard fought for and we need to fight equally hard to retain them.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

The full text of the motion is below.

Health and safety

Congress notes that the government has continued with its onslaught on the health and safety of workers, with the Prime Minister calling health and safety a “monster” and wishing to “kill off the heath and safety culture for good”.
Congress is worried about the implications of the Löfstedt review of health and safety legislation published in November last year. Inspections save lives, as shown by Prospect’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Robens report 40@40: health and safety stories from the frontline.

Congress is alarmed by the HSE’s move to abolish the tower crane register, as recommended by the Löfstedt report. The register has only been in place for two years and is low-cost. Since the register was set up, there have been no more fatalities in relation to assisted-erected tower cranes, the only type of crane the register covers.

Congress believes that austerity and re-regulation will undermine the protection of workers-particularly in hazardous sectors. In this regard, Congress notes that UK fire services have failed to address the lessons identified from recent firefighter fatalities and that the UK government completely abdicates all responsibility for this appalling failure.

Congress condemns the HSE’s move to repeal the Construction (Head Protection) Regulations. Löfstedt recommended repealing these Regulations only if their revocation would not result in reduced protection and if the awareness for head protection is maintained. Congress holds the view that the Regulations have been the key driver to bringing down the number of head injuries and fatalities and that their repeal would without doubt lead to reduced protection and less awareness.

Congress condemns the exemption of self-employed workers from health and safety laws if they “pose no potential risk of harm to others”, as recommended in the Löfstedt Report Reclaiming Health & Safety for All.

Despite finding the UK’s safety regulations to be “broadly fit for purpose”, the report singled out the self-employed-a growing but vulnerable proportion of the UK workforce who already suffer intimidation, and even blacklisting, when they try to exercise their employment rights.

Congress believes that this exemption will be widely abused, leading to self-employed workers being expected to take ever-greater risks. Each year there are 1.2 fatalities per 100,000 self employed, a death rate almost twice as high as the permanently employed, yet unions continue to face major obstacles nominating safety representatives from casual and atypical workforces.

Congress rejects the Government’s pursuit of a weakened health and safety regime in which workers can be denied full protection depending on their employment status, or the arbitrary definition of their workplaces as “low” or “high” risk.

Congress asserts that the coalition government’s assault on health and safety laws puts profit before workers’ safety, will increase social and economic costs and is a massively retrograde step and calls on the TUC General Council to actively oppose all current and future moves by the coalition government, in particular those arising from the report, that lead to a deterioration in the protection and health and safety of workers. Congress also notes that Löfstedt himself expressed concerns over misuse of his report for political purposes and resolves to guard against this in the imminent implementation review.

Congress therefore calls on the General Council to:
i.                     mount a vigorous political, public and industrial campaign to prevent the weakening of health and safety laws and to support the right of all workers to enjoy effective health and safety protection, regardless of their employment status or workplace
ii.                   support a lobby of the government to review and revise the decision to cut the Health and Safety Executive budget by 35 per cent. Undertaking action to reverse this trend would be in the best interests of both employees and employers. Congress rejects claims that health and safety is a burden on workplaces as there cannot be a price put on saving lives. Everyone should be entitled to the dignity of the safest workplace possible.
iii.                  Register opposition to the self-employed safety exemption with government, and directly with Professor Löfstedt before he presents a follow-up report to the DWP in January 2013
iv.                  Promote an extension of Section 8 of the Safety Representatives’ Regulations 1977 to create more safety representation among self-employed and freelance workers.

Lena Davies
NASUWT Press Officer
07867 392 746