“My Lords, in the present circumstances, for a Government to be business-friendly is a necessary objective. However, such a goal is not just about regulatory simplification and limiting inspections. It must also be about ensuring that companies can get access to the right sort of help and advice that they need to survive and prosper.
I want to reflect for a moment on the help that small businesses need so that they can avoid costly accidents and losses due to work-related ill health. A start has been made with the registration of health and safety consultants but much more is needed, particularly in helping to co-ordinate the contributions of all the bodies, including the private and voluntary sectors, that can help firms to understand their risks and implement appropriate preventive measures. The Health and Safety Executive, which has had to cut back its telephone information line as part of its budget reduction, would be ideally placed to draw together safety groups, trade associations and unions into this kind of national safety effort.
The whole question of health and safety is vital. It is not a burden on business, as some Ministers are wont to regard it, but a vital protection for both people and businesses alike. Its importance links directly to other key themes in the Queen’s Speech: support for hard-working families and bearing down on crime. We owe a duty to support all members of the workforce to ensure that they return home to their families safe and sound at the end of each working day. We must also bear down on the relatively few unscrupulous employers whose failure to obey the law that protects their employees’ lives and limbs is indeed a crime.
We welcome the reassurances from the DWP Minister, Chris Grayling, that nothing will be done to reduce protection for workers in risky industries, but he undermined that commitment by continuing to suggest that health and safety laws and regulations have been interfering with investment and jobs. This is contradicted by Professor Ragnar Lofstedt, who in his very competent review of health and safety law for the Government said clearly that there is no evidence of that. He said that the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and its subsidiary regulations, whose requirements are qualified by reasonable practicability, were broadly fit for purpose. In the end, he managed to identify only fourteen outdated or redundant pieces of health and safety law that could be got rid of, mainly because the matters they covered were dealt with by existing statutes. It is therefore quite misleading to suggest, as the Minister did recently at a business forum, that by getting rid of such gems as the Celluloid and Cinematograph Film Act 1922, the Gasholders (Record of Examinations) Order 1938 or the Gasholders and Steam Boilers (Metrication) Regulations 1981 the Government are somehow relieving industry of a colossal amount of red tape. In all these cases, because of Section 1(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, the same, if not more stringent, requirements remain in place.
Indeed, what evidence is there that any of the measures being repealed ever interfered with investment and job creation? There is none at all. Of course we must speak out against those petty bureaucrats who overinterpret every requirement, but it is time to stop demonising all health and safety. Good health and safety is very good for business. Yes, we must continue
to improve our statutes, but it is quite wrong to suggest that complying with the present legislation is damaging employers’ profits.
If we want to talk about the real cost of health and safety to business, let us talk about the cost to business and the nation of not having it. In 2010-11, in addition to fatalities due to work-related accidents, of which there were 171 in Britain, and not including an estimated 600 deaths due to work-related road accidents, many thousands of people died before their time due to past exposure to hazardous agents such as asbestos and other cancer-causing substances. Twenty-two million days were lost due to work-related ill health and 4.5 million days were lost because of workplace injury. The annual cost to society of workplace injuries and ill health, excluding cancer, was estimated by the Health and Safety Executive at £14 billion in 2009-10. The cost of workplace accidents is enormous, with each fatal accident costing our society about £1.5 million and each reportable injury costing £17,400. Over the years, many thousands of individuals and their families have had their lives shattered by workplace accidents and ill health. That is why the case for maintaining sensible measures to control risks to health and safety is so important, and why quite frankly it belittles Ministers who stoop to talk of health and safety having gone mad.”
15 May 2012 : Column 293 et seq