Labour MP Andy Slaughter: ‘Zeitgeist’ is against health and safety measures
The UK has gone “some way backwards” on attitudes towards health and safety since the landmark introduction of regulations and protections at work in the 1970s, a Labour MP has said.
Andy Slaughter it was a “shame” that the UK had moved away from the “revolution in the right direction” that followed the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974.
And he said the “zeitgeist” was opposed to improving health and safety regulations amid concerns about a “PC” culture seeking to restrict individuals and companies’ freedom.
The Hammersmith MP was speaking in the Houses of Parliament at the launch of the British Safety Council’s new manifesto as part of the charity’s celebrations for its 60th anniversary.
Mr Slaughter, who was employed as a press officer for the British Safety Council in 1982, said the job that the group is carrying out “could not be more important than it is today”.
Citing government policy such as cuts to legal aid, he continued: “I’m afraid the zeitgeist is very much against [health and safety], and the nonsense that we hear talked about ‘PC’, and about ‘health and safety gone mad’ and all of those things are I find distressing.
“It’s a shame that since that we now look back on the halcyon days of the Health and Safety at Work Act and that revolution in the right direction on health and safety in this country that we have gone some way backwards.
“But that is what I think the British Safety Council does best; it is not just a professional organisation, it’s a campaigning organisation, it’s voice is always heard and it’s always on the right side. I’m delighted and proud to be here hosting this evening.”
Lawrence Waterman, chair-designate of the British Safety Council, echoed Mr Slaughter’s remarks, calling for industry leaders to refresh the arguments around the need for health and safety in a modern context.
“The balance that we have to strike is a very interesting one. Before the disaster occurs, health and safety is ‘a burden, a nuisance, a bureaucratic, horrible thing that I’ve got to work through’. Once the disaster has occurred, everyone says ‘someone should have done something to stop this happening’,” he said.
“What we’ve got to do is explain, and it’s challenging to do it and we have to keep refreshing the argument, that what you do to prevent the nasty things happening actually determines the way that you operate business as usual. The more that you operate it effectively, the less those nasty things occur.”
Lynda Armstrong, chair of the British Safety Council, said the charity’s purpose as set out by its founder James Tye in 1957 of ensuring no one is injured or made ill at work is “still as relevant today as it was 60 years ago, and it’s still our mission, it’s still the reason we’re here.”
During her address, Ms Armstrong outlined the key challenges facing health and safety at work going forward, including:
- Improving the mental health of workers: “In many workplaces, there is still a huge stigma associated with illness, but if we are to really put people at the heart of our economy and our industry, we have to address that issue so that people and organisations can reach their full potential.”
- The need to look at sustainability and reduce the impact of business activities on the environment. “It’s no longer acceptable not to think in those terms for any business.”
- Improving the regulatory system in the UK. Though the UK has a “world leading” regulatory system, “we’re not perfect,” she continued. “And the Grenfell fire tragedy shows there is some concern and the impact on regulation and possibly deregulation post-Brexit is very much on our minds and we need to make sure we get that right and that we don’t go backwards.”
“We can’t do this alone. Partnership and collaboration will all be key to meeting all our objectives. We are committed to working with the Government, with regulators, with professional bodies, businesses… so that James Tye’s vision that no one should be injured or made ill at work still becomes as relevant today,” she said.
Martin Temple, chair of the Health and Safety Executive, said the pace of change in the workplace, with the developments of new technologies, represents “one of the biggest challenges we face”.
“The general pace of change is such that we’re now seeing reports that 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that do not yet exist,” he noted during his key note speech.
Other challenges include improving the health of workers, he added, arguing that doing so would reduce the strain on individuals, families, employers, health service and the economy in terms of productivity.
The HSE has three health priorities: targeting work related stress, muscular skeletal disorders and occupational lung disease.
“Let’s not kid ourselves that this is all going to be a stroll in the park. We know it’s going to be difficult. But we also know that now is the time to push for improvement,” he concluded.
“There’s something of a groundswell in terms of recognising the benefits for everyone in having people being able to work productively and go home healthy.”
The event, which took place on Wednesday evening in Parliament’s Dining Room A, was attended by MPs and peers from across the political spectrum.