On 6 April 2010, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called a general election for 6 May 2010. Dust off your copy of A Very British Coup or Yes, Minister and get ready to try to make sense of workplace policies, if they ever get a mention.
Workplace safety rarely gets a mention in election campaigns unless there is the misfortune for a major work-related catastrophe during the campaign. In these early days, OHS was never going to be mentioned but over the next month or so, it will be fascinating to see which political party mentions the issue first and with most emphasis.
David Cameron of the Conservative Party spoke passionately about OHS within the last six months. The Labour Party has the capacity to show that work fatality rates have fallen within their three terms of office (more below). The Liberal Democrats have no policy position yet on workplace safety. Basically it’s Vision vs Stability vs Uncertainty.
In December 2009, Cameron outlined the “conservative approach” to OHS:
“First, establish clear and specific principles about when health and safety legislation is appropriate, and when it is not, so we can evaluate whether existing or future legislation is necessary.
Second, we will propose practical changes in the law to both help bring an end to the culture of excessive litigation while at the same time giving legal safeguards to those who need them most.”
Given the prominent and widely reported speech Cameron gave, it will be a major omission if the campaign proceeds without him returning to this topic at some point.
Health & Safety Executive coincidentally released its 2010/11 Business Plan on 1 April 2010. (Why any government authority would release any serious document on April Fool’s Day seems absurd) The plan contains a progress report on fatalities, ill-health and injury which shows a decline since the benchmark of 2000 or 2001. (The Labour Party has been in power since 1997.
No-one is saying that workplace safety is a “game-changing” policy area but it can be used as a “below-the-radar” litmus for the intentions of the major parties. The Tories are speaking about the future. Labour is relying on its record and the Liberal Democrats are not sure what to do.