The Hazards Campaign, the trade union based health and safety watchdog, addressed a series of twenty freedom of information questions to the Health and Safety Executive at the beginning of this year. What they found is worrying.
Far from enforcing safe working conditions in the country’s many hazardous workplaces, the HSE have discovered “deregulation” under government pressure and decided they like it. They want to reduce the “burden” of health and safety regulation on business, they explain. The next visit to your workplace may be from an HSE “adviser” rather than an inspector, as they are now placing greater emphasis on trusting companies to regulate themselves.
Which companies are they trusting? Well, two weeks after announcing at the end of 2002 that BP had topped its safety penalties list for the year, thanks to a £1 million fine for the huge explosion at the Grangemouth oil refinery, the HSE praised BP for its safety projects. The HSE website now features BP as a case study of good practice on safety, despite the company being under criminal investigation in the US after another explosion at its Texas City plant which killed fifteen workers.
Perhaps all this regulation is indeed a disproportionate “burden” on business? Well, the Hazards Campaign estimates that there are fifty thousand work-related deaths in this country every year, and the HSE estimates that two million people were suffering from a work-related illness in 2005, though Hazards hads convincing evidence that this is a significant underestimate.
Meanwhile, the government’s so-called corporate manslaughter bill has no provision for jailing corporate criminals, and is in any case not a government priority. Alongside this, the fines handed down to all companies for breaches of health and safety law have in no year exceeded £13 million in total, while Britain’s best-paid corporate chief executive — coincidentially, John Browne of BP — paid himself £8 million last year.
And this is the system the government is pressurising the HSE into relaxing, in order to relieve the terrible “burden” on those poor, long-suffering capitalists!