Unite fears cuts to red tape will take workplace safety back to Victorian times


Unite has serious concerns about proposals to dilute health and safety legislation – the regulations that save thousands of workers from death and injury in the workplace each year.

The union has detected a desire from government for ‘a mosaic of erosion’ in long-established health and safety legislation under the cloak of cutting alleged ‘red tape’.

The statement in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement  that ‘the government will also remove all unnecessary health and safety requirements for apprenticeships’ heralds a steady erosion of health and safety legislation.

If this statement is coupled with a number of retrograde ‘back to Victorian times’ proposals contained in the Lofstedt Review of Health and Safety Review, a worrying trend emerges.

A total of 171 workers were killed in the workplace and more than 115,000 injured, according to the Health and Safety Executive annual report for 2010/11. In addition, it is estimated that 20,000 people die every year from preventable occupational diseases, such as cancer and mesothelioma.

One of the review’s proposals is to exempt some self-employed workers from health and safety legislation – this will require an amendment to the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act. Self-employment is common in the UK’s most dangerous industries, such as agriculture and construction.

Falls from height are the most common cause of workplace fatalities and Unite is very alarmed by review’s proposals to repeal the Notification of Tower Cranes Regulations and review the Work at Height Regulations.

However, Unite agrees with the review’s conclusion there is ‘no case for radically altering health and safety legislation’.

General secretary Len McCluskey said: ‘Under the spurious cloak of cutting alleged ‘red tape’ for employers, the government is set to embark on a series of changes that will endanger the lives and health of the 29 million Britons in the workplace.

‘Ministers want to take workplace safety back to Victorian times and tipping the legislative balance away from employees in favour of those employers who put cost-cutting and the pursuit of profits first, and safety in the workplace second.

‘This disturbing trend must be resisted – and Unite will be in the forefront of that struggle in the workplace and in Parliament.’

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