Health and Safety Update: UK Under Fire for Failing to Protect Workers

Health and Safety Update: UK Under Fire for Failing to Protect Workers

19th May 2020

With many people now going back to work after the lockdown was relaxed, health and safety is a huge issue. However, the UK’s approach has been criticised in recent days, as it was revealed that the country is falling behind other European nations with the latest regulations.

The European Study

The first issue to crop up comes from a study that was commissioned by the Institute of Employment Rights. Titled ‘International Health and Safety Standards after Brexit’, it was carried out by Dr Andrew Moretta and Professor David Whyte, who are both from the University of Liverpool.

They found out that the approach to health and safety in the UK is one of the poorest in Europe. The study compares it to lower-ranked countries such as Cameroon, Saudi Arabia and North Macedonia, rather than France and Germany, in terms of worker protection.

These lowest ranked nations are those that have each only ratified 6 of the current total of 36 health and safety areas agreed by the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation (ILO).

While the UK has traditionally been regarded as being proactive in international safety laws, the country is now falling behind many of its European counterparts. Of the EU member states, only Romania and Estonia are listed behind them in adhering to the ILO standards.

David Whyte is one of the co-authors and Professor of Socio-Legal Studies in the University’s School of Law and Social Justice. He stated that there is a British myth that “health and safety has ‘gone mad’” and that because of this people falsely see it as being some sort of burden or red tape.

This can lead to employers cutting corners and trying to save money while putting their workers’ lives at risk. While traditional safety equipment such as fixed access ladders and protective clothing are readily available, there needs to be clear laws in place encouraging the use of this equipment.

Whyte went on to point out that the country is now 26th out of the 28 EU nations in terms of complying with the latest ILO standards. As an example, he mentioned how the British representatives wouldn’t sign up to a particular convention because they didn’t agree with workers using PPE.

The other co-author is Dr Andrew Moretta, from the University’s School of Law and Social Justice. He said that the UK’s health and safety laws have “been weakened” and that enforcement of them has also been reduced.

A Lack of Workplace Inspections

Another health and safety issue that has been raised recently is over the workplace inspections that Prime Minister Boris Johnson mentioned in the easing of the lockdown restrictions.

Union leaders have asked for clarification over when they will begin. It appears that they aren’t yet being carried out and that no official start date has been agreed for them.

For the moment, construction workers and those in other industries are expected to self-police to ensure that the guidelines for safely returning to work are being met.