Thursday, 31 July 2014

UNISON Scotland celebrates 40 years of the Health & Safety at Work Act

40 years ago today, the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 received the Royal Assent and became law in Britain.  Despite often being misunderstood and misinterpreted, it remains one of the best pieces of legislation on the statute book which has saved and improved the lives of countless UK workers. 
In the 40 years since the Act was passed, the number of fatalities in the workplace has fallen by 85 per cent while the number of injuries at work has fallen by 77 per cent.  It has enabled industry, unions and regulators to work together to create solutions to workplace dangers and threats to ensure that employees can return home safely each night. 
However, it is disappointing to note that the present Con Dem government continues to attack provisions in the Act.  Since it came to power in 2010 it has:
  • Cut funding to the HSE by 40%;
  • Set up 4 reviews to look at the “burden” on business and the functions of the HSE;
  • Drastically cut HSE and Local Authority inspections;
  • Ditched some important Codes of Practice and replaced them with guidance notes;
  • Changed what and how employers have to report injuries and illness;
  • Blocked new initiatives from Europe and tried to reduce existing measures;
  • Made it harder for workers to claim compensation.
Most recently, through the Deregulation Bill, it is attempting to remove large numbers of self-employed workers from its coverage, in order to replace it with new rules about which self-employed workers are covered and which are not.
While the Act has been successful in bringing down deaths and injuries in the workplace it has been less effective at preventing occupational diseases such as cancers, asthmas, dermatitis, back pain and lung diseases. In addition, stress is now one of the biggest causes of workplace ill health and sickness absence, often caused by bullying and harassment.  An open and fair workplace culture is needed, so that employees are encouraged to report health and safety concerns without feat of victimisation or intimidation.  We need to work to use the Act to its fullest extent in the future to continue to address these problems.
Happy 40th Birthday Health & Safety at Work Act.  We will fight to ensure that you continue to protect us for many years to come.

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