Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Safety regulations save lives

Some nauseating media interviews this morning applauding the UK Government's plans to ditch swathes of safety regulations in pursuit of cutting so called 'red tape'. Lets be clear, this is not about business burdens, it is about cutting health and safety and workers rights in pursuit of profit.

As a European study of better regulation initiatives concluded, "Relatively few of the initiatives included an assessment of the intended benefits regarding environmental outcomes, or cost savings to business and regulatory bodies." Of course nobody supports unnecessarily complicated legislation. Where such problems exist they should be dealt with. However, complaints of red tape are rarely about the detail of specific legislation, instead they are a whinge about regulation in general. This is because some employers' organisations promote the myth of a 'red tape' crisis to try to dissuade governments from defining minimum standards for workers; consumer rights and safety; protection for the environment and safety. It's just a campaign for weaker laws.

The OECD has developed measures of the administrative burdens on business and whether regulation is more or less strict. The UK ranks lower than virtually any other OECD economy on all the indicators. UK government research also suggests that the methodology used for employer organisations surveys is flawed; in they are most likely to be answered by a group of small business employers who are over-pessimistic about regulation. For most businesses it simply isn't an issue.

Ask the citizens of Edinburgh suffering from an outbreak of legionnaires disease in the capital if they think cutting inspections of cooling towers is a good idea. Or the families  of workers at Stockline in Glasgow. Or for that matter the rest of us who are paying the price for light touch regulation of the bankers.

All the evidence shows that businesses succeed because they have a good product or service to sell, which is delivered in a well-organised way. Such employers care little for regulation. In contrast, deregulation favours 'cowboy' employers who want to race each other to the bottom of the hill.

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