Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Deadly business - who pays?

Part 12 of a 'Special investigation' from Hazards magazine April 2009.

It continues on from previous parts looking at workplace accidents and ill health; blaming a "hands off approach to safety regulation" and "an absence of oversight." This part examines figures quoted by the British Chambers of commerce for the cost of health and safety legislation and proposes alternative figures for the cost of injury and ill health the society.

According to the report, when the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) published its ‘2009 Burdens Barometer’ in March 2009, it put the cumulative cost to business of workplace safety regulations covering working time, chemicals, asbestos, explosives, biocides, work at height, vibration and noise, as well as occupational exposure limits and the corporate manslaughter act at over £21.5bn, 28 per cent of the total burden of regulation.

Hazards feels this figure totally ignores the potential benefits of having fewer dead, sick or injured workers which can result in reduced sick leave, retention of trained and productive staff and, potentially, avoidance of safety fines, compensation payouts and spiralling employers’ liability insurance costs. And it ignores entirely the human cost of poorly regulated workplaces.

Hazards has looked for figures showing the cost of accidents. They include

* A May 2006 government regulatory impact assessment put the total cost of non-asbestos occupational cancer deaths each year at between £3bn and £12.3bn.
* A 2008 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) economics briefing put the total cost of each occupational fatality – and there’s hundreds every year - at £1.5 million
* A 2004 HSE report, using 2001/02 figures, put the cost to society of occupational ill-health and injury at between £20bn and £31.8bn.

The main concern of Hazards seems to be summed up by the following statement regarding the cost of accidents to society where "less than a quarter was borne by employers, although they were by and large responsible for the workplace conditions that led to the injury or ill-health."

I do think it is right that publications like Hazards do challenge organisations like the BCC. But I don't see any cause and effect being demonstrated in the article between the way regulations are developed and enforced vs safety performance. And I think bashing employers is likely to be counterproductive.

Andy Brazier

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