UK employment minister Chris Grayling ‘misled’ the House of Commons by claiming the costs to society of workplace safety failings are billions less the real figure, a campaign group has charged. The Hazards Campaign is warning that ministers are constructing a job fear smokescreen to justify a business-friendly drive towards safety lawlessness at work.
The campaign was commenting after a House of Commons debate on 13 June. In a response to questions from Labour MP Ian Lavery, the minister said “the annual cost to Great Britain of workplace injuries and work-related ill health is currently in the order of £20 billion.”
He also “absolutely agreed” with Tory MP Stephen Metcalfe who has asked if health and safety legislation “when it is applied inappropriately and gold-plated…. can cost jobs and damage the economy?”
The minister added that “we have to understand that if the system is over-bureaucratic, it will lead to the closure of businesses and cost jobs, and that does nobody any favours.”
Hilda Palmer of the Hazards Campaign, which is spearheading a ‘We didn’t vote to die at work’ campaign, commented: “There’s nothing ‘current’ about this cost estimate – the minister has misled the Commons.
“The £20bn figure was the lower extreme of a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimate that put the possible cost to society of workplace health and safety failures at £31.8bn. This was based on 2001 data. Add in a decade of inflation, increasing health care costs and changing patterns or work-related ill-health, and the figure is certainly now considerably higher.
Palmer added: “There are now over 1,000 more deaths from work-related mesothelioma each year, for example, which would add at least £3bn to the total. And sensible voices accept workplace health and safety is if anything under-regulated and under-enforced in the UK, where only 1 in 19 major injuries at work are even investigated.
“Studies show workplace safety regulations save money and lives. And far from being job killers, they don’t result in job losses but can actually promote jobs through innovation.”
She added the employment minister had “first down played the costs to society of failures to abide by the law – which are largely borne by individuals and the broader community – then repeated the fiction that safety legislation costs jobs”.
Unions, for example, point to the potential to drive the creation of green jobs through the introduction of protective health and safety legislation.
After the debate, Labour MP Ian Lavery vowed to fight the government’s “nonsensical” health and safety cuts and said the dramatic reduction in health and safety inspection at work “is atrocious. It is absolute nonsense.”
The cuts were also condemned at this month’s annual conference of the union Community.