Monday, 14 June 2010

The only "health and safety madness" is believing the myth of the compensation culture

The government has announced that it will "undertake a Whitehall-wide review of the operation of health and safety laws and the growth of the compensation culture." For review, of course, read attack.

Lord Young, the appointed adviser on this subject, "is expected to report to the Prime Minister in the summer" and "will work with the appropriate government departments to bring his proposals into effect." Already, we know that Young's primary goal is to "reintroduce an element of common sense and focus the regulation where it is most needed." However, with the opinion that health and safety offers "an unnecessary burden on firms," we know who is likely to lose out here.

As I wrote last week, "this is the "free market" ideological dogmatism that justifies the kind of gross negligence that caused [the Bhopal] disaster."

I predicted exactly the attempts to roll back health and safety that the government announced yesterday, and detailed the propagandas function that the press plays in this;
The media propaganda campaign against "health and safety gone mad" and/or "health and safety killjoys" is built upon myths and half-truths. (As is the campaign against "political correctness.") The point is to turn ordinary people against the very concept that keeps them from dying or suffering serious injuries in the workplace so that it can be rolled back. Hence the media silence when workers are killed because of lapses in health and safety, or over the still unconscionably high industrial death toll in countries like Britain.
When I wrote that "where this is going should be obvious," I didn't realise that my point would be made within seven days. However, the Tories (yellow as well as blue) have thus far failed to disappoint when it comes to attacks on the working class. The media, too, is on top form.

The Daily Mail struggled to contain its glee;

Goodbye 'elf and safety: Cameron announces review of 'joke' regulations and 'compensation culture'

In their quasi-orgasmic delight, the even forgot to offer a token quote from anybody who disagreed with the Tory/big business/Daily Fail agenda. Lord Young, meanwhile, might as well have written the article as the majority of it was either a quote or a paraphrase of his words.

Like-minded bottom-feeders the Sun followed suit, with many other media outlets essentially just rehashing the press release.

The BBC tell us that "unions have warned against attacks on rules that protect staff and lawyers say "compensation culture" is a "myth"." However, their "balance" is limited to a single line, and for a fuller account of union opposition we have to go to the Independent and the Guardian.

Right-wing blogger Dizzy describes this opposition thus;
Expect Labour MPs, Left wing commentators, and the leftie bloggers too start listing lots of statistics about work place injury, and subtle hints that what is going to happen is a return to pre-war industrial death on a massive scale. There may very well be a desire to let common sense reign once more, but there will still be many who will wince and murmur "better to be safe than sorry" and bemoan our inevitable return to Victorian hardship.
He may have a point when he says that "all the tales you hear happen because the people that enforce [health and safety legislation] at grass roots or in private business don't understand what is and what is not necessary." Indeed, a lot of the myths and half-truths that emerge are based upon the actions of a single, over-zealous individual.

This is what Young is on about when he says it is the "application and perception" of health and safety legislation that is of concern.

Contrary to what Dizzy thinks, though, this is not what will be impacted by the review. Just as the tabloid hysteria serves a distinct propaganda purpose in manufacturing consent for attacks on hard-won legal protection, so the few and isolated over-zealous officials are the excuse to strip the safeguards from workers who need them most.

Last week, I made reference to the Nottingham Post's report that the Tories have long "plan[ned] to amend the law where the Health and Safety Executive can carry out inspections in industries where an investigation is already under way." In Property Week Kizzy Austin, a health and safety lawyer at Pinsent Masons, was quoted as saying that "lots of changes would have to be made, including all the health and safety guidance and codes of practice" in order for Tory plans to be enacted.

This is exactly the kind of thing that a review of health and safety laws could recommend. And it is a dangerous backslide.

Senior TUC health and safety policy officer Hugh Robertson notes that, even now, "the average employer will never see a health and safety inspector, and even if they are failing to fulfil their basic legal obligations, such as risk assessment, the chances of them being prosecuted are virtuallynil unless they kill or seriously injure anyone."

Further, as Muiris Lyons, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, told BBC Radio 4;
The government's own statistics on compensation claims... showed that in nearly all cases there are less claims than there were 10 years ago.

People can't claim compensation unless they have been injured because someone else is at fault.

Our organisation is all about trying to reduce the incidents of injuries and I'm sure there is common ground there [with the review]. But where people are needlessly injured, through others' fault, they should be able to obtain access to justice.
This review is not about seeing "a return to common sense." It is about using the myths and hysteria promoted by the media as a smokescreen to dismantle basic and vital protections for working people.

Given that we won these in over a century of vicious struggle, we cannot let them be stripped away by a lord with a white paper. When they declare our safety an "unneccesary burden," we need to fight back.