A report published on Workers’ Memorial Day by the TUC has accused the government of putting workers’ lives at risk from the drastic cuts it has made to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspections.

The report “Toxic, Corrosive and Hazardous: The government’s record on health and safety” also revealed that, over the last four years, the government has cut funding to the HSE by 40 per cent; blocked new regulations and removed vital existing protections; prevented improved European regulation on health and safety; cut support for employers and health and safety reps; and made it much harder for workers to claim compensation if they are injured or made ill at work following employer negligence.

The government is now trying to change the law to exempt large numbers of self-employed workers from health and safety protection. This is a huge concern as self-employed people are more than twice as likely to be killed at work than other workers.

The TUC believes that if this government assault on basic workplace protections continues it will have a significant impact on the health and safety of people at work – and that many more lives will be unnecessarily put at risk.

Unions have developed a list of 10 simple measures which they believe will vastly reduce the number of illnesses, injuries and deaths caused by work. The TUC is calling on the government to:

  • ensure all workplaces are inspected regularly by the enforcing authority
  • revise the law on safety reps and safety committees to increase the areas they cover and their effectiveness
  • give occupational health the same priority as injury prevention
  • introduce a new, legally binding dust standard
  • ensure exposure to carcinogens in the workplace is removed
  • introduce a law governing maximum temperature in the workplace
  • increase protection for vulnerable and atypical workers
  • place a legal duty on directors individually and as a board to ensure health and safety compliance
  • ensure health and safety is a significant factor in all public sector procurement
  • adopt and comply with all health and safety conventions from the International Labour Organisation.

Iain Birrell from Thompsons Solicitors, commented: “Disapplying health and safety rules to the self-employed seems a pretty cynical attempt to manipulate the figures by excluding a growing class of financially weakened workers. Recent TUC analysis shows that since mid-2010 the self-employed account for 44% of the net rise in employment. Of those, pensioners, part time workers and ‘odd jobbers’ were the fastest growing groups and HMRC figures show that in 2011-12, 5.5 million self-employed people actually managed to earn less in total than 4.9 million self-employed people did before the recession.

The government’s red-tape bonfire will be a funeral pyre for some workers, and for the surviving families the hope of justice will rest on an arbitrary distinction between employed and self-employed. Society should be ashamed to tell employers that it is alright to have dangerous workplaces as long you don’t actually employ anyone directly.”

To access the report, go to: