The TUC is warning today (Monday) on Workers’ Memorial Day that the government’s persistent ideological attacks on key health and safety legislation threaten even more accidents, injuries and deaths at work.

In a new report published today Toxic, Corrosive and Hazardous: The government’s record on health and safety, the TUC reveals that in the last four years the government has drastically cut Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspections, cut funding to the HSE by 40 per cent, blocked new regulations and removed vital existing protections, prevented improved European regulation on health and safety, cut support for employers and health and safety reps, seen local authorities reduce their workplace inspections by 93 per cent, and made it much harder for workers to claim compensation if they are injured or made ill at work following employer negligence.

The government is now trying to change the law to exempt large numbers of self-employed workers from health and safety protection. This is a huge concern as self-employed people are more than twice as likely to be killed at work than other workers.

The TUC believes that if this government assault on basic workplace protections continues it will have a significant impact on the health and safety of people at work – and that many more lives will be unnecessarily put at risk.

Unions have developed a list of 10 simple measures which they believe will vastly reduce the number of illnesses, injuries and deaths caused by work. The TUC is calling on the government to:

  • ensure all workplaces are inspected regularly by the enforcing authority
  • revise the law on safety reps and safety committees to increase the areas they cover and their effectiveness
  • give occupational health the same priority as injury prevention
  • introduce a new, legally binding dust standard
  • ensure exposure to carcinogens in the workplace is removed
  • introduce a law governing maximum temperature in the workplace
  • increase protection for vulnerable and atypical workers
  • place a legal duty on directors
  • ensure health and safety is a significant factor in all public sector procurement
  • adopt and comply with all health and safety conventions from the International Labour Organisation.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government says that the UK is a safe place to work and that we don’t need any more regulation. If only this were the case. With the UK ranked just 20th in the health and safety risk index of 34 developed nations, we’ve hardly got a record to be proud of.

“Good employers who work closely with unions improving health and safety at work don’t see regulation as an intrusive burden. But rogue bosses, who are happy to cut corners and take risks with their employees’ lives, do.

”There is a real danger that further cuts and deregulation will destroy the workplace safety culture that has existed in Britain for many decades – with a disastrous effect on workers health and safety.

“But there is an alternative – a government that is committed to protecting workers and puts a stop to the large-scale negligence that claims the lives or health of far too many workers and costs the state billions of pounds.”

Toxic, Corrosive and Hazardous: The government’s record on health and safety is published to coincide with Workers’ Memorial Day today, which is held on 28 April every year. It is a day when all over the world workers and their representatives conduct events, demonstrations, vigils and a host of other activities.

In the UK over 20,000 people die prematurely every year as a result of injuries or accidents caused by their work. Today in towns and cities across the country people will gather to remember the many victims. As well as remembering the dead, the day also serves as a reminder that workplace-related deaths are not inevitable and can be prevented.