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       Hazards, number 143, 2018
A right mess Brexit waffle worrying for workers; safety watchdog loses its head
The workplace safety watchdog has despatched its lame duck leader. The government’s new Brexit secretary thinks safety and employment rules should be axed. Workplace deaths are up. Hazards editor Rory O’Neill says there’s never been a greater need for union protection.

 

Deal or no deal, Brexit could be bad news for workers.

New government guidance on employment rights after Brexit, in the event no deal is reached, says any amendments to existing regulations ‘will not change existing policy.’

“It basically says that nothing will change, which may of course be true on Day One but after then all the coming changes to EU regulation, including proposed improvements to chemical safety limits will not apply to Britain,” warns TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson.

The guide, ‘Workplace rights if there’s no Brexit deal’, is one of the 25 ‘no deal’ Brexit advice papers published by the government on 23 August 2018.  

“Of course there is nothing to stop the UK removing a lot of the protections on Day Two after Brexit,” says Robertson. “That is why we need a deal that ensures that Britain will continue to apply all EU rights post-Brexit as a minimum.”

Commenting on the first batch of technical notices on plans for a no-deal Brexit, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “These papers confirm that a no-deal Brexit is not a credible option. It would be devastating for working people. Jobs and rights at work would be under threat, and price increases would hit already-struggling families hard.”

HSExit controversy

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), meanwhile, is sticking to the government’s nothing-to-worry-about script.

A statement flagged up on the front page of the safety regulator’s website as the government guides were published notes HSE is working “to support the government's commitment to protect workers' rights as the UK leaves the EU by ensuring that health and safety regulation continues to provide a high level of protection in the workplace.”

It adds: “HSE is working to help with the government's preparations for both Day One and the longer term, subject to the outcome of the negotiations with the EU. We will aim to publish further details on the role of health and safety when possible.”

When that will be is difficult to gauge and for HSE, a watchdog starved of resources that many believe to have lost its way, a significant additional burden. The safety regulator is already facing a period of uncertainty. Dr Richard Judge ‘stepped down’ as HSE chief executive on 17 August after less than four years in the post. He had been on ‘gardening leave’ from 15 June following what well-placed HSE insiders described to Hazards as a ‘mutiny’ by the rest of the executive’s top management board, frustrated by his ‘abject failure’ to provide leadership.



YOU JUDGE  If former HSE’s chief executive Richard Judge had taken heed of Hazards’ advice in September 2014, he might not have had such an inglorious end to his failed tenure at the head of the regulator. HSE in July 2018, announcing an increase in work fatalities and asbestos cancers, was forced to concede the long-term decline in work-related fatalities dating back to 1981 has ended, “and the number has remained broadly level in recent years.” more

Not that this was reflected in his pay packet. Judge received a £10,000 to £15,000 bonus in 2017/18 according to the HSE annual report published in July 2018, on top of his £165,000-£170,000 salary. His total package for the year was worth over £200,000.

Judge finally departed three days after Hazards questioned the HSE secretariat about the apparent disappearance of its superannuated boss. The forthcoming Triennial Review of HSE’s performance may have finally condemned Judge. The latest draft of the overdue review is believed to be highly critical of the organisation, identifying a lack of openness, an absence of skills and leadership at the top and a failure to take on ‘difficult’ prosecutions on issues like stress.

It is set to contrast markedly with the previous Triennial Review, published in 2014 just before Judge took up the reins, which found HSE was ‘fit for purpose’.

Judge, the former head of the Insolvency Service, was brought in with a brief from ministers to commercialise the pared-back regulator. Hazards at the time urged Judge to resist pressure to ‘pimp our watchdog’, warning there was a “perception that HSE’s new mission is to become the business-friendly, business consultancy of choice helping those with deep pockets at home and abroad rather than a dedicated, state-funded regulator helping those facing work hazards” (Hazards 134).

NO AUTHORITY  It’s not just HSE that is failing in the safety enforcement stakes. A July 2018 report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Occupational Safety and Health found the number of health and safety inspectors employed by local authorities has almost halved since 2010, with inspections and enforcement action plummeting as a result. The rise of ‘e-commerce’ and the monumental warehouses they require has increased a new – and evidently neglected – enforcement sphere for these absentee inspectors. more

The watchdog’s total 'operating income' increased by over £2 million last year, hitting almost £93 million, with the ‘commercial income’ component increasing to in excess of £16 million. But HSE’s overall income has dropped sharply on Judge’s watch.

Government income in his first full year in charge was £142.6m. This year it is set at £130.6m, and will fall to £128.4m in 2019/20.

At the same time, work got more deadly, with provisional figures released by HSE in July 2018 showing a rise in fatal injuries and in mesothelioma death figures.

Unchained malady

The July 2018 appointment of Dominic Raab as Brexit secretary raised some additional concerns, with one union saying he poses a “direct and immediate threat” to workers’ rights and safety.

The Tory right-winger had previously called for Britain to use negotiations with the European Union to scrap workers’ rights. He authored a paper calling for opt-outs from EU employment regulations, including those that guarantee employees time off and limit the number of hours staff can be made to work.



STINK TANK A plan published by a right-wing thinktank and backed by prominent Tories is calling for key safety and environmental laws to be ditched as part of a ‘hard’ Brexit. The Institute of Economic Affairs report, Plan A+: Creating a prosperous post-Brexit UK, was unveiled on 24 September 2018 by former Brexit secretary David Davis and leading Tory Leave campaigner Jacob Rees-Mogg, and has been backed by ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson. more

Raab also opposed rules that give long-term agency workers the same rights as permanent staff, and those that stop people being sacked if their company changes owner. In Escaping the straitjacket, a 2011 report for the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies, Raab argued the UK’s Working Time Regulations, based on an EU workplace safety directive, should be scrapped.

These regulations restrict the number of hours an employee can be forced to work to 48 hours a week. They also guarantee at least one day off a week and a minimum of four weeks’ paid annual leave a year. Raab wrote: “Britain should secure a total opt-out from the working time directive and scrap the UK regulations, ensuring that this costly, anti-jobs legislation cannot cause further damage to the economy.” He added it should be made easier for companies to sack “underperforming” employees.

Raab was also a co-author of the Britannia Unchained manifesto produced by five Tory right-wingers in 2012. Calling for wholesale removal of employment protections, it added British people “are amongst the worst idlers in the world.”

UNION EFFECT  Anti-union policies lead to a sharp rise in fatalities, while a union presence in the workplace has a protective effect, a US study has found. The author, Michael Zoorob from Harvard University’s department of government, notes: “The paper demonstrates that the protective effect of unions on workplace safety at the micro level translates into large scale reductions in occupational fatalities.”  more

Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, commented: “Theresa May has appointed someone who thinks British workers are lazy and have too many rights and he has already published plans to slash vital rights from the minimum wage to rights for agency workers.” He warned: “Dominic Raab’s appointment now poses a direct and immediate threat to working people in Britain.”

Better regulated economies, like Sweden, perform better. Workers with rights and union protection are safer and more productive.

But rights are under threat. The tentative offer from the government is the status quo on Day One post-exit, with no guarantee even these rights will survive for long.

Union power, through organisation, education and collective action, is the best – and perhaps the only – meaningful protection you’ve got.

 

 


 

 

 

Work was getting safer. Not any more


Fatalities at work increased to 144 in 2017/18, up from 135 the year before, according to provisional figures released on 4 July 2018 by the Health and Executive (HSE). HSE conceded the long-term decline in work-related fatalities dating back to 1981 has ended, “and the number has remained broadly level in recent years.”

HSE added its “fatal injury figures do not include fatal accidents on non-rail transport systems or work-related deaths from fatal diseases.” Neither do they include work-related suicides. Evidence suggests work-related transport and suicide deaths each year cause several times more deaths than those included in the HSE’s official fatality total.

HSE also published figures on the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. These continue to climb, counter to HSE’s repeated predictions. In 2016, the latest year for which figures are available, there were 2,595 deaths, up from 2,549 mesothelioma deaths in 2015. HSE has been forced to concede mesothelioma deaths are not likely to come down this decade, after earlier predicting deaths would peak at “1,950 to 2,450 deaths sometime between 2011 to 2015.”

The national Hazards Campaign commented: “Work deaths were dropping steadily up to 2010 when the Tory/Lib Dem coalition turbo charged deregulation with the ‘Red Tape Challenge’ and attacks on HSE, but have plateaued since.  Now the trend is going in wrong direction.”

Calling on the government to back strong regulation and effective enforcement, the campaign added: “Work deaths are going up while the government obsession with deregulation is just as strong and just as deadly.”

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TUC concern over council safety enforcement crisis

The government must recognise that enforcing strong safety regulations is a positive, protective thing to do, and not a cost to be cut, the TUC has said.

The union body was commenting after a July 2018 report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Occupational Safety and Health found the number of health and safety inspectors employed by local authorities has almost halved since 2010, with inspections and enforcement action plummeting as a result.

Publishing the report, Labour MP Jo Stevens, the chair of the all-party group, said: “We recognise the financial restraints that many local councils are working under and the many competing demands on their services, but we cannot allow the role of local authorities in important areas such as health and safety to continue to decline. Too many people are injured or made ill at work and, with a strong inspection regime, many of these cases can be prevented. I hope the government and the HSE [Health and Safety Executive] will consider and implement the recommendations of this report.”

According to the TUC, the report is of crucial importance because half of all British workers have the health and safety in their workplaces enforced not by the HSE but by their local council. “The report starts by countering the argument that the local authority enforced sector is ‘low risk’, saying that, while it may have lower injury levels, it often has higher rates of occupational diseases such as back pain or work-related stress,” commented TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson.

“It also gives a stark account of how much inspection and enforcement activity has fallen in the past decade with proactive inspections falling by 97 per cent and the overall number of inspections by 65 per cent.” He added that the report also “proves that the idea that enforcement is now done more intelligently is just not true”, with enforcement activity dropping by 64 per cent, mirroring almost exactly the inspection drop.

The all-party group report recommends that local authorities inspections should have greater emphasis on health issues rather than just safety. It also calls for changes to the way the “primary authority” scheme – which the MPs warn is a barrier to local action – to ensure greater scrutiny and consistency.

According the TUC’s Hugh Robertson, “of course we also need the government to provide funding for inspection and enforcement activity and, equally important, we need to change the mind-set that sees inspection activity as being something that is negative. Instead, government should view health and safety inspections as a positive way of ensuring that employers know about their legal duties and are complying with them.”

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Anti-union laws kill, union presence protects

Anti-union policies lead to a sharp rise in fatalities, while a union presence in the workplace has a protective effect, a new study has found.

The US study examined the use of anti-union ‘right to work’ (RTW) laws. The author, Michael Zoorob from Harvard University’s department of government, notes: “The paper demonstrates that the protective effect of unions on workplace safety at the micro level translates into large scale reductions in occupational fatalities.”

He calculated the effect “of a 1 per cent decline in unionisation attributable to RTW is about a 5 per cent increase in the rate of occupational fatalities.” Zoorob adds: “I find that diminished union membership due to ‘right to work’ legislation has led to a 14.2 per cent increase in workplace mortality.”

The paper, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, notes: “Though worker fatalities have declined in the last two decades in the USA, this decline has been steeper in states with higher levels of unionisation.

“Moreover, this study shows that RTW legislation, under consideration in many state legislatures and nationwide, may lead to greater workplace mortality through decreasing the percentage of unionised workers. Indeed, worker fatalities have climbed somewhat since 2008, a reversal from previous years, during the same period that several states adopted RTW.” The paper concludes: “In light of these findings, policymakers in the USA and other countries might consider how declining unionisation rates may impact worker safety.”

Terry O'Sullivan, general president of the US labourers’ union LIUNA, said the Harvard study “isn’t the only new research showing the union advantage when it comes to worker safety and health”, pointing to the findings of a 2018 survey of more than 3,000 union and non-union construction firms by the CPWR (the Center for Construction Research and Training).

This found union contractors were 20 per cent more likely to engage in prevention-through-design practices. Almost 80 per cent of union contractors said they conduct hazard analysis before projects begin; only 56 per cent of non-union contractors said the same.

Michael Zoorob. Does ‘right to work’ imperil the right to health? The effect of labour unions on workplace fatalities, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published Online First: 13 June 2018. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2017-104747

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Top Tories back Brexit push to axe safety protections

A plan published by a right-wing thinktank and backed by prominent Tories is calling for key safety and environmental laws to be ditched as part of a ‘hard’ Brexit.

The Institute of Economic Affairs report, Plan A+: Creating a prosperous post-Brexit UK, was unveiled on 24 September 2018 by former Brexit secretary David Davis and leading Tory Leave campaigner Jacob Rees-Mogg, and has been backed by ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

The report sidesteps the necessary role of EU regulation in protecting workers and consumers, instead saying it “saddles the UK with regulations that protect large incumbent businesses from competition, harming innovation and reducing efficiency.” The IEA singles out environmental laws and the REACH chemicals regulations for criticism, with Davis claiming at the launch: “There is a tremendous case study in here of the reach the chemical negotiators, the chemical standards, and how even the Commission recognises that it is ineffective and bad.”

But the IEA report reserves some of its most scathing attacks for working time rules. “The UK has since embraced a number of labour policies which go well beyond what can be seen to be reasonable protections of workers,” it claims, identifying the working time rules as an example of “overly prescriptive regulation that goes beyond what are necessary for worker protection.”

The union GMB said removing this law would mean 7 million workers could lose rights to paid holidays, with even more workers in a position where they could “be forced by bosses to work weeks longer than 48 hours.” Others could lose the right to lunch and rest breaks, GMB added, and night workers could lose some health and safety protections. Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, commented: “The prime minister needs to come our clearly rebuking this report. She promised that people’s working rights would be protected after Brexit but she has become a hostage to the extremists in her own party.”

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A right mess

The workplace safety watchdog has despatched its lame duck leader. The government’s new Brexit secretary thinks safety and employment rules should be axed. Workplace deaths are up. Hazards editor Rory O’Neill says there’s never been a greater need for union protection.

Contents
Introduction
HSExit controversy
Unchained malady

Related stories
Work was getting safer. Not any more
TUC concern over council safety enforcement crisis
Anti-union laws kill, union presence protects
Top Tories back Brexit push to axe safety protections

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Deadly business
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