Socialist Worker

Health and safety

Issue No. 1936

NEW LABOUR is to go into May’s expected general election with an eight-year promise to bring in laws against companies that kill their workers still unfulfilled.

Government minister Jane Kennedy told a parliamentary debate on Thursday of last week that a draft bill on corporate killing will be tabled, but it stands no chance of becoming law before the likely election.

New Labour had promised to bring in such a law in 1997 and it was included in the 2001 manifesto.

The Home Office told the Centre for Corporate Accountability, which campaigns on the issue, a week before Christmas that it had intended to publish a draft on 21 December, but had had to delay it on account of David Blunkett’s resignation. Not only is there now a further delay, Jane Kennedy also told MPs that the government is rejecting swaths of recommendations by the parliamentary select committee that oversees health and safety.

The Department of Work and Pensions select committee published a report last year that called for a doubling in the number of Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors. It also criticised moves to reduce the HSE’s emphasis in inspection and enforcement and make it focus instead on advice to companies. Kennedy’s response to that was to say, “Simply doing what the HSE has done before will not deliver the required improvements in health and safety performance.

“There is no evidence that simply doubling the number of inspectors will achieve significant improvements.”

In fact, the independent research shows that inspection, backed up by the threat of legal action, has a demonstrable effect on improving safety standards.

Yet, the government is cutting the HSE’s budget over the next three years, leading to fewer inspectors.

And it has also ruled out changing the law to allow individual directors to be held to account for deaths at work. Backbench Labour MPs in last week’s debate pointed out that the laws and penalties covering financial impropriety by directors are far stricter than those covering deaths at work. The government is saying they will remain so.

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Sat 29 Jan 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1936
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