Brexit can’t lead to a bonfire of regulation
Sitting down with PoliticsHome recently, Charles Pitt, Head of Policy and Influencing at the British Safety Council, said it would be a “terrible error” if Brexit were to be used as an excuse to stop caring about health and safety.
In the autumn of last year, Charles Pitt joined the British Safety Council as Head of Policy and Influencing. After spending his early career working in Parliament, he joined the British Safety Council at an exciting time.
In the last three years the organisation has made a huge effort to steer back to its roots in the 1950s, reflecting on the legacy of its founder, James Tye.
“He was an ad man by trade, so quite an interesting individual. He had started off designing posters for workplaces that were eye catching,” explained Mr Pitt.
“Because of his background, James Tye liked shock tactics.”
He continued: “I don’t think we are going back to that, but we are always prepared as an organisation to make the case for health and safety.”
“The world for our members has changed so much, mostly driven by access to open source information.
Mr Pitt explained how in the 1960s, if you wanted to know what the latest guidance was on Health and Safety legislation, it was useful to have an account manager in an organisation, like the British Safety Council, that you could call up and ask ‘what does this mean for me?’.
“Obviously in 2020 that world looks very different,” he said.
“We need to re-pitch constantly to our members, the benefits of membership, and one thing we are looking at is increasing advocacy, giving them more of a voice.”
One area that the British Safety Council sees as vital is to have its voice and the voice of its members heard, is Brexit.
He said: “Britain has become a global leader in health and safety regulation, we don’t want to lose that pre-eminence. It would be a terrible error if Brexit were to be used as an excuse to stop caring about these things.”
Mr Pitt wants to position the British Safety Council as a “critical friend of Government”, working with the Health and Safety Executive and with local authorities to create a regulatory framework to keep people safe without proving burdensome for business.
“We don’t want Brexit to be used as an excuse to deregulate for its own sake,” he said.
“We are very concerned that the Government’s promises around workers’ rights were initially included for political reasons in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill by Theresa May, but subsequently stripped out by the Prime Minister.
“I don’t think there is a huge appetite in Government for a bonfire of regulation, whatever the politicians say.”
Protecting workers has been the core of the British Safety Council’s objectives since the organisation was founded in 1957 – at its core is a vision that no one should be injured or made ill through their work.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Council’s agenda focused largely on industrial accidents, which were more prevalent at that time than today.
Although the challenges may have changed, the British Safety Council stands consistent and workplace safety remains a priority.
One such area in which the British Safety Council was a pioneer was in workplace wellbeing.
James Tye set up the British Wellness Council in the 1980s, an idea which didn’t prove popular at the time, but is an increasingly important area today.
“We are interested in how employers and regulators can create a regulatory framework so that people thrive at work”, he explained.
One area of workplace wellbeing that the organisation is focussed on is ‘presenteeism’, the phenomenon of people coming to work when they are unwell. The British Safety Council has recently commissioned research from RAND Europe in partnership with Vitality Health to look into this issue.
“We know there is a link between presenteeism and mental health and stress,” said Mr Pitt.
“We want to understand the drivers of presenteeism, and why people are feeling that they need to be present and what the consequences are of that.
“Once the presenteeism research results are available, we want to engage parliamentarians.
“I hope that Stephen Timms MP will prioritise his Committee’s review of the work of the Health and Safety Executive, as that is a debate, we definitely want to be involved in.”
The British Safety Council is also reviewing the legislation around the impact of flexible working.
“In the world of work where there are increasingly variable pressures on people, it’s important employers are increasingly flexible”, said Mr Pitt.
“The evidence base is that flexible working can work for everybody,” he continued, but cautioned that there was the potential for unforeseen consequences, for example loneliness as a result of isolated working.
“We want the Government to look again at the Health and Safety at Work Act to consider whether it fully takes account of mental health and if it actually has stood the test of time as a piece of legislation .”
The British Safety Council has been looking into maternity and paternity leave and has recommended to government that workplace modifications be extended not just for those with disabilities, but also for those who have other needs, for example caring responsibilities and those suffering from the menopause.
On the latter, Mr Pitt has been in talks with the Women and Work All-Party Parliamentary Group on how they can further highlight this issue.
“What we want to do is see how we, as a membership organisation, can help our members foster a culture of wellbeing within their own organisations”, he said.
The British Safety Council has also been looking at the Labour Party’s proposals for a new body to champion workers’ rights.
The organisation has also endorsed the TUC’s campaign on sick pay: “Staggeringly, if you earn less than £118 a week in this country, and if you are ill, you don’t get any sick pay at all”, he said.
The British Safety Council’s return to its campaigning zeal began last year with a new campaign called Time to Breathe, highlighting the need to protect outdoor workers from the health impacts of ambient air pollution.
Launched in collaboration with King’s College London, the campaign coincided with the launch of a mobile app, Canairy, designed by British Safety Council and which gives outdoor workers a readout of their exposure to current air pollution. The campaign is re-launching in Manchester in part to make the point that government must invest in air pollution measurement beyond just London.
“We would like air pollution to be recognised as an occupational hazard,” said Mr Pitt.
“The first readout of the data earlier this year showed unsurprisingly that if you are working outside you are about 15% more exposed to dangerous air pollution than If you are an average Londoner – and there’s lots more data in our recent report Outdoor worker exposure in London.”
“We have put together a steering group of construction and transport companies who are looking at how businesses can do more to protect workers.
“We want to see public investment in measurement, that’s certainly something that needs to be done,” he said.
Alongside the campaign for better public investment in measurement, the British Safety Council is very clear that the Government needs to better resource the Health and Safety Executive and local enforcement.
“The Health and Safety Executive has had a 50% cut in budget over the last decade and has lost a third of its staff.
“It’s just taken on building safety in the wake of Grenfell and so a properly resourced Health and Safety Executive is definitely something we need to see.”
Exporting our health and safety skills
As a world leader in health and safety standards, Mr Pitt described how the British Safety Council is interested in how it can export its experience and expertise.
The British Safety Council has an office in Mumbai, India, and is looking to expand there as global supply chains become more demanding about standards across the globe.
“Historically, the Health and Safety Executive would invest in supporting health and safety agencies overseas as a kind of public good or as part of what it saw as its mission to make the workplace safer. As a campaigning charity obviously, we see that as important too.
“My view is that we could also be packaging and marketing that in just the way we do for manufactured goods and other pieces of intellectual property.
“It would be great to see Tory trade ministers talking up health and safety as a trade export rather than Tory backbenchers talking about health and safety as a blight on business.
He concluded: “It is a very cheesy line but you put brakes on a car so it can go faster. If we have good regulation in place, that will enable businesses to operate safely for longer.”