Last year we published research by Professor Steve Tombs of The Open University on the lack of effective regulation of pollution, food safety and workplace health and safety standards.
Yesterday in the House of Lords, Baroness Andrews cited the research in a debate on deregulation in public services and health and safety.
She told the House of Lords:
However sophisticated the regulatory system, the loss of expertise, skills and resources for enforcement renders it ineffective. Evidence shows, for example, that since 2010, one-third of environmental health officers have gone, so food outlets are checked less frequently and air-quality stations are closed. The heaviest cuts fall in the poorest areas.
Professor Steve Tombs of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies has shown that health and safety, food protection and pollution control staff in Liverpool have been cut from 39 to 16, with corresponding reductions in the other Merseyside authorities. There has been a steady fall in the number of enforcement notices issued by the HSE and local authorities. I know that other noble Lords will have other examples.
Most significantly, the relationship between the HSE and industry itself has changed. The HSE has been directly disabled by a cut of 46%. It is no longer allowed to conduct proactive inspections. At the same time, the commercialisation of its activities, through the introduction of fee for intervention, means that the HSE is less likely to be consulted over health and safety.
Professor Tombs suggests that there is a long-term downward trend in every form of enforcement. If that is the case, I suspect that there will be a long-term downward trend in health and safety in the workplace, reversing the steady progress that has been made over 40 years.
Baroness Andrews also referred to the David Cameron's pledge in 2012 to 'kill off the health and safety culture for good' and his claim that health and safety was an albatross around the neck of business.
'I wonder how that sounds to the families of the 13,000 people who die each year from exposure to chemicals or dust', Baroness Andrews remarked.
She also quoted remarks by the former special adviser, Giles Wilkes, on the then government's 'Red Tape Challenge':
“In 4 years … Steve Hilton and his Red Tape Challenge provided more moments of exquisite satirical lunacy than any other. I will never forget listening … to Steve and A Certain Cabinet Minister debate whether to lift the ban on inflammable nighties … At one point Steve suggested scrapping entirely the Consumer Protection Act”.
Bizarre thought though that is, my immediate reaction on reading it was one of simple anger that while this nonsense was being driven by No. 10, no such urgency was being given to updating the fire regulations.