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Government urged to protect workers health and safety in uncertain times

29 November 2010

The Government needs to be clearer on how a drive to cut red tape combined with spending cuts will not put people at greater risk of injury or illness at work, a leading health and safety body said.

In the House of Lords debate on Lord Young’s Government-commissioned review of health and safety, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) called for clarity on how the review will improve safeguards for public and private sector workers when managers are looking to cut costs. IOSH Honorary Vice President Lord Brougham and Vaux, said: “Lord Young’s report details his own views on how to make things easier for organisations to address health and safety - in his view, making it less bureaucratic, less time-consuming.

“But we would like to see greater clarity on how this would happen without compromising health and safety standards. Here, the devil is in the ambiguity.

“We look forward to working with the Government to scrutinise the proposed health and safety legislation and to address what should be our first concern –
how to keep people healthy and safe at work in the difficult months and years ahead.”

IOSH welcomed the publication of Lord Young of Graffham’s report, Common Sense, Common Safety, on October 15, but the chartered body said the report raised important questions on whether a drive to cut red tape will mean a cut in standards in health and safety.

Lord Brougham told fellow peers: “We fully support any effort to rein back on unnecessary bureaucracy, but in the weeks and months ahead, the welfare of workers is on the line.

“We are told this is a time of austerity, a time when the Government is looking at managers to cut costs – and for entrepreneurs to set up the new, fledgling businesses of tomorrow.
“Has it ever been more critical, then, to protect people at work? Enterprise is to be encouraged, but surely not at any cost.

“In encouraging growth, there is a very real risk for any Government of creating an environment in which it is easier to die, be injured or fall ill at work.”

Lord Brougham and Vaux’s address to the Lords was reinforced by IOSH’s Public Services Group, who held an event at the Guildhall, London, called ‘Health and safety in uncertain times’.

More than 70 health and safety officials from councils, police authorities and schools across the UK attended the event to discuss Lord Young’s review and the impact of government spending cuts on health and safety.

Bruce Phillips, Chair of IOSH’s Public Service Group, said: “The Government review of health and safety has fallen at a very difficult time for those of us who work in the public sector.

“Whilst we all welcome the governments review it comes at a time when workers in the public sector fear for their livelihood. One thing that was revealed at the event was concern that the spending cuts alongside the review of health and safety could potentially mean a decline in standards.

“What hard-pressed managers within the public sector need to remember is that the health and safety of their staff is vitally important and that cutting corners when it comes to health and safety could mean risking lives.

“On a positive note, the report advises the Government should cut red tape for school trips, apply extra scrutiny of councils which ban events on health and safety grounds and to ensure the emergency services are not at risk of litigation for acts of heroism. This will hopefully ensure that the misinterpretations of health and safety laws which end in the cancellation of perfectly safe activities are curbed for good.”

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