CWU Conference 2017 Health & Safety Fringe Meeting Monday 24th April 2017 – “Better (Health, Safety and Environment) Regulation – Better For Who?” Guest Speaker Professor Steve Tombs
To: All Branches
Over one hundred and twenty Communication Workers Union health and safety reps and branch officials packed the health safety and environment fringe meeting at the CWU’s Annual Conference in Bournemouth on Monday 24h April 2017.
This year the delegates were delighted to hear from the excellent guest speaker Professor Steve Tombs (See attached Biography).
Opening the meeting, CWU Health Safety and Environment Officer Dave Joyce, introduced Steve Tombs. Dave said that Steve is the former Chair of the ‘Centre For Corporate Accountability” and author of the ground-breaking research publication “Better Regulation-Better For Who” (See attached copy of the Report) which was published last year and revealed some shocking facts and findings which puts the spotlight on the lack of effective workplace health & safety, standards and regulation, pollution and food safety controls in the UK: In Bournemouth this week Professor Tombs made a special presentation of his report and updated findings to CWU Health and Safety Fringe meeting. Some headline statistics from the report show that there are:-
29,000 UK annual deaths from airborne pollution.
1 million annual food borne illnesses resulting in 20,000 hospital admissions and 500 deaths.
50,000 deaths a year from work related injuries and health problems.
These staggering figures are probably underestimates. The litany of lives shortened and health impaired to which these figures bear witness are also largely avoidable.
Dave said that Steve’s publication breaks the silence, reflecting the Centre For Crime and Justice Studies commitment to informing public understanding of the role and limitations of criminal justice processes, the impact of deregulation, lack of enforcement, enforcement cuts at the HSE and LAs, the impact of outsourcing and privatisation and offers ideas on how the problems may be reduced and best regulated.
Steve opened up by saying that he had spoken to a CWU Health and Safety meeting of senior Health and Safety Reps last year in Northampton and in his view CWU Safety Reps were the most informed he had come across.
He then said his report which asks the question: “Better Regulation-Better For Who”? He said the short answer to that question is “not better for us!”
Steve then said that the basic assumptions on “better regulation” are that most businesses comply with most regulations most of the time; enforcement resources should be targeted at the non-compliers, and for the most part involve advice not sanctions; regulatory reform and less enforcement are seen as key to a growth economy.
However Steve said that some quantitative indicators for the period 2003/04 to 2014/15 showed something different:
For food safety and food hygiene (EHOs):
food hygiene inspections fell by 15%
food standards inspections fell by 35%
food prosecutions fell by 35%
For Environment Agency pollution control:
inspections fell by 52%
prosecutions fell by 54%
For Pollution Control EHOs:
inspections fell by 55% (to 2013/14)
notices fell by 30% (to 2013/14)
Steve went on to explain that the dominance of “Better Regulation” has been secured through a series of mutually supportive processes:
A long term rhetorical assault on regulation as burdensome, red tape etc
> Institutions within and of Government
> Legal reform: deregulation and re-regulation
> Reviews of Regulators and Regulation
Professor Tombs pointed out, the rate of inspection and enforcement actions for environmental health, food safety and hygiene, and health and safety have all been falling. In the case of health and safety inspections by local authorities, for instance, the average business can now expect to be visited only once in every 20 years.
Enforcement Officers quantitative indicators
Health and Safety Executive (FoD):
numbers of inspectors fell by 34%
inspections fell by 69%
total notices fell by 23%
prosecutions fell by 35%
Health and Safety EHOs:
numbers of inspectors fell by 35%
total inspections fell by 69%
preventative inspections fell by 96%
total notices fell by 58%
prosecutions fell by 60%
Steve added that this is not just a problem of infrequent inspections and lax enforcement. In the name of cutting red tape, governments of all political persuasions have, for over a decade, undermined independent and effective business regulation. Budget cuts under the austerity programme have compounded the problem. So too have moves to outsource and privatise regulatory and enforcement activity.
Private companies are increasingly involved in ‘regulating’ themselves. Taken together, Professor Tombs argues, these changes may ‘mark the beginning of the end of the state’s commitment to, and ability to deliver, social protection’.
We are taught that the greatest harms faced by citizens are crimes dealt with by the police, courts and other criminal justice agencies. Professor Tombs’ Briefing makes clear that this is far from the case.
The harms he writes about are the result of political and economic decisions. They are not random happenings. The story the Report tells is one of ‘avoidable business-generated, state facilitated violence: social murder. And, quite remarkably, it proceeds, daily – met only by academic, political and popular silence’.
The Report which breaks the silence on these issues reflects the ‘Centre for Crime and Justice Studies’ commitment to informing public understanding of the role and limitations of criminal justice processes, and to fostering a greater knowledge of the harms faced by citizens, and of how they might best be regulated and reduced. Regulation these days is widely derided, a dirty word now by the Tory Government, equated with ‘red tape’, unnecessary rules, burdens and bureaucracy. Yet we would do well to recall that regulation of business emerged ostensibly to provide some levels of ‘social protection’ for workers, consumers and communities from the worst excesses of the industrial revolution. Thus, the regulatory agencies formed in Victorian Britain created the basis of regulatory regimes through to the present day while social protection through regulation probably reached its high point in the 1970s/80s – early 90’s, then, the emergence of neo-liberalism provided the context for a concerted attack on regulation in the name of freeing business from the burdens of red tape. As Steve Tombs report sets out, in the past 15 years, virtually without political, public nor academic comment, this ‘social protection state’ has been radically transformed. Specifically:
Regulation now proceeds virtually without enforcement, a result of a political initiative, ‘Better Regulation’, rolled out by Labour, Coalition and Conservative Governments
The politics of anti-regulation have been overlain by the economics of austerity
Austerity has particularly impacted upon regulation and enforcement at the level of local authorities
Private businesses are increasingly involved in the business of regulation
The agencies of social protection – such as the national Health and Safety Executive or Local Authority Environmental Health Offices – have been radically transformed to the extent that they are either unable to perform their statutory duties, or now perform protection for rather than from business, or both.
Overall, these developments have left workers, consumers and local communities more vulnerable to business-generated harms while exacerbating economic and social inequalities. Steve talked about a case study of Merseyside: a snapshot of enforcement capacity at 2015 where he said that funding for local authority services had been progressive under at least the first two New Labour Governments but from 2009/2010, local government funding from Westminster came under pressure. Coalition and Tory Government cuts impacted most heavily upon poorer Local Authorities. He quoted (Sparrow, 2014):
“Councils covering the 10 most deprived areas of England – measured according to the index of multiple deprivation – are losing £782 on average per household, while authorities covering the richest areas are losing just £48 on average. Hart District Council in Hampshire, the least deprived local authority, is losing £28 per household, while in Liverpool District B, the most deprived area, the figure is £807.” Steve also spoke about a case study of Merseyside which demonstrated the effects of cuts.
Steve then discussed the effects of the Primary Authority Scheme which made it more difficult for Local Authority EHOs to enforce in their own areas.
Steve went on to say that “Better Regulation” is not just about less enforcement but about re-casting the relationship between the state and the private sector:
Regulators need “to see themselves in a different light in relation to business, to reposition themselves in terms of businesses” (BRDO)
“We need to be more business friendly and get our customer focus right” (EHO)
“Increasingly we’re told that our main job is to facilitate business, industry and so on” (EHO)
At local level, it is a de-democratising process.
Overall, it is dismantling a system of regulation – social protection – which was put into place from the 1830s onwards and that there is no logical end point to “Better Regulation.” Steve concluded by warning that Food Standard Agencies are considering privatizing the enforcement of Food Safety and asked the question: “How much better can ‘Better Regulation’ get”?
Dave Joyce summed up the meeting and thanked Steve Tombs for his interesting and informative talk to the CWU Health and Safety Fringe meeting.
Professor Steve Tombs CV.
“Better Regulation – Better For Who? Report by Professor Steve Tombs.
Prof. Steve Tombs Power Point Presentation to CWU Conference 2017 Health & Safety Fringe Meeting.
‘Flyer’ For H&S Fringe Meeting 24/04/2017.
Photograph of Dave Joyce and Prof Steve Tombs at the 2017 CWU Conference H&S Fringe Meeting.
National Health, Safety & Environment Officer
Email Attachments – Click to download
LTB 237/17 CWU Conference 2017 Health & Safety Fringe Meeting Monday 24th April 2017 (1)