Substantial change in OHS needs clever politics

According to the UK Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), from 6 April 2012 businesses will no longer be obliged to notify the Health & Safety Executive of those injuries that result in a worker’s absence of up to seven days.  The DWP’s media statement about these changes estimates:

“The change to the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 1995 will see a fall of around 30 per cent in the number of incidents that must be reported by law – an average of around 30,000 fewer reports a year. The move is estimated to save businesses 10,000 hours a year.”

The business saving claim is very dubious (see below) as companies will still need to process any workers’ compensation claim or medical costs generated by the incident.  OHS professionals and safety managers will still need to investigate the incident and identify measures to prevent a recurrence.  These costs will continue.

From the figures above, DWP estimates that reporting incidents equates to 20 minutes per incident.  Over the whole of the UK, 10,000 hours will be “saved” annually but will anyone really notice?

According to a BBC report, the general secretary of the GMB union, Paul Kenny, said:

“This will do absolutely nothing to improve the health and safety record of UK employers or make workplaces safer….There will be 30,000 fewer accidents reported, which is not the same as 30,000 fewer accidents.”

The Telegraph newspaper calculated, on 6 April 2012, that the changes introduced by the employment minister Chris Grayling, will save UK businesses just 5 pence each.  The same newspaper article includes the business group perspective:

John Longworth, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the changes were “tiny in the grand scheme of things”.

“Extending the Reporting of Injurious, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences time to seven days is a welcome step in the right direction, as it will go some way to reducing the administrative burden many businesses face when dealing with health and safety regulation…However, the government’s own figures show that this will only save firms £240,000 annually, which in the grand scheme of things, is tiny.

“If the government really wants to get tough on deregulation, it will need to go much further in reducing cost and compliance around health and safety legislation.”” [links added]

It is hoped that Longworth is misquoted as a reduction in compliance is likely to result in an increase in injuries.  Any decrease in the prominence of compliance is likely to encourage a lax attitude to safety

Kenny seems to be questioning why the government has bothered with this RIDDOR reform at all as it is a side-issue to improving safety and reducing injury.  Longworth also questions the decision as he desires greater deregulation. (Longworth’s recent advice to the UK Government is pictured right) What is not being provided is a way of increasing the safety of workers without increasing the business costs of doing so.  Some advocate attitudinal changes to workers through various programs in the belief that structural change is too expensive or that everything would be fine if only workers did not do the wrong thing.  This is short-term thinking in the extreme.

The UK Government seems to have introduced this cosmetic change to RIDDOR in order to be seen to be active, particularly after its attempt to charge for HSE inspections has been postponed.  If the UK Government is set on deregulating the OHS sector, as it appears, it needs to do more than tweaking the system and then claiming substantial change.  The trick is to introduce change in such a way as to maintain standards and keep the constituents and stakeholders happy.  Sometimes there is politics and other times there is clever politics.  The latter is required now.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories business, Cameron, executives, government, hazards, law, OHS, politics, safety, workplaceTags , , , ,

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