After cutting planning regulation last week, the Government announced on Monday that they’re now turning their attention to health and safety legislation. This has been in the Tories sights for a long time, and now they are continuing their attack on workers’ rights by claiming it will help the economy.
The new rules are set to be introduced in April 2013 and will include changing or scrapping 3,000 regulations and removing routine inspections for businesses considered ‘low risk’, such as shops, offices, pubs and clubs. Companies will also only be liable for damages in civil cases if proven to be negligent – so the cost to businesses might be lower but it is society that will pick up the tab in extra welfare payments and medical treatment.
We don’t know which rules will be targeted but, as I’ve said before, many workers’ rights are secured by health and safety legislation. What this makes clear is that when the Government talks about ‘repatriating powers from Brussels’, it is this social legislation like health and safety, the Working Time Directive and rights for pregnant workers that they have in mind.
The plans will supposedly save businesses millions, but there is strong evidence that implementing proper health and safety can save companies even more. It is estimated that each incident that results in one or more days off work costs a company £20,000, while the annual cost of working days lost due to work-related illness amounts to €490bn a year across the EU. Apparently companies will become subject to routine checks following an incident, but these figures show it is better to avoid accidents in the first place.
The plans are sure to be popular with parts of the British press, obsessed with “health and safety gone mad”. However, rather than showing the Government is “serious about helping businesses to flourish”, all this really demonstrates is that they are relentless in their drive to worsen conditions for ordinary workers, while totally lacking in ideas that will actually generate growth in the economy.
Just as with their plans to relax planning regulations, the Coalition seems to think that it is ‘red tape’ that is holding businesses back from hiring more people. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that a major hindrance is simply a lack of demand; a shop or restaurant isn’t going to take on more staff at a time when business is down, whether they have an annual health and safety inspection or not.
Once again the Government are using the economic crisis, which is causing real hardship to ordinary people up and down the country, as an excuse to cut regulation that was designed to protect people. This is nothing more than an ideological push to reduce the role of the state in all areas of life and will do very little to actually help the economy. Meanwhile the Coalition seems unable to come up with anything more imaginative to get our economy moving.