Regular safety inspections, a maximum temperature in the workplace and far greater control of carcinogens are just some of the improvements that the TUC is calling for in a new ten point safety manifesto published today (8 February).
The report, Time for change, features ten key recommendations which the TUC believes, if implemented by a future government, could help turn around the UK's poor safety record, and prevent a good many of the 20,000 workplace-related deaths which occur in the UK every year.
The TUC is also hoping its manifesto for change will make the case for good health and safety practice, in a climate where safety laws are increasingly seen by ministers as unnecessary burdens on business, and where spending cuts and changes in regulations are making it more difficult to police employers who play fast and loose with their employees' safety.
Time for change says that rather than relaxing health and safety laws as is the trend under the current government, what is actually needed is a variety of changes designed to improve workplace safety and bring the UK more into line with our European competitors.
The UK "does not have an amazing safety record", says the TUC. In addition to the 20,000 - plus workplace deaths, last year 1.8 million people were living with an illness or injury caused by their work. A further 115,000 employees had hurt themselves so badly at work they needed to take at least three days off sick.
The TUC believes that urgent action is needed to prevent the UK's safety record from getting any worse, and says that the government's approach to health and safety is placing more lives and careers needlessly at risk.
Top of the TUC list is the need for regular safety inspections which, it believes, help keep employers on their toes and much more likely to give workplace safety a high priority.
Unfortunately, says the TUC manifesto, the government apperars not to agree and from now on, only high risk workplaces such as building sites or workplaces with poor safety records are to be inspected.
The TUC says that another important safety change would be the requirement for all workplaces employing more than ten people to have a union safety representative who would be able to call in the appropriate safety authorities if they believed that their employer is ignoring safety concerns.
Time for change says that the UK's 150,000 union safety representatives have already proved their worth. As well as helping to save the economy as much as £578 million a year, they prevent up to 13,000 accidents and 8,000 work-related illnesses annually
The manifesto also says that all workers should be given access to occupational health services which could help prevent around 450,000 cases a year of conditions such as stress, back pain and repetitive strain injury. Very few employees currently have access to such services which the TUC says ccould enable huge savings to be made. Workers injured or made ill would need less time off work and would be more likely to be able to return to their jobs rather than becoming dependent on benefits.
There are seven other changes which the TUC is calling for and which it believes could improve workplace safety:
- The introduction of lower limits on dust in the workplace. Dust exposure kills thousands of workers a year and can cause lung, throat and nose cancers, as well as chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
- Workers should no longer be exposed to carcinogens at work. These substsances should be removed from the workplace completely, perhaps by changing production processes or usingalternative materials. This may not always be possible but the risk to the worker can always be reduced, says the TUC.
- A new uppermaximum temperature at work which would be 30oC for employees working indoors or 27oC for those involved in strenuous work. This change should be accompanied by a new legal duty on employers to protect staff working outside in hot weather, by providing them with sun protection and an easily accessible supply of water.
- The UK's current safety laws are failing to protect groups of vulnerable workers - for example domestic workers - so the TUC calls for a strengthening of the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to cover them.
- A new legal duty on directors which would set out the safety responsibilities of company directors and change boardroom attitudes towards company health and safety.
- Only firms which can demonstrate a good safety record and a commitment to promoting the well-being of their workforce should be allowed to bid for public contracts.
- The UK should adopt and comply with all the health and safety conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The government's failure to ratify key ILO conventions including those on asbestos, dock safety, construction, agriculture, chemicals, home work, mining and domestic workers is compromising the safety of millions of UK workers, says the TUC.
Commenting on the safety manifesto, the TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Every year 20,000 people die needlessly because of an accident or illness caused by their jobs, and many thousands more are unable to work because of health problems which began at work. This isn't just a national tragedy for the victims and their families, but is also a huge drain on the economy, costing the state billions of pounds a year."
She concluded:"It doesn't have to be this way, but unfortunately ministers seem convinced that despite the high number of deaths and injuries at work, safety regulations are too onerous on businesses and rather than being tightened, need to be watered down or removed entirely. This is completely the wrong approach, when what is needed is tougher enforcement and new safety laws. Our safety manifesto sets out how to do just that."