Monday, July 27, 2015

Will less health and safety regulation mean a more economic or a more dangerous British supply chain?

I was at the SEMA seminar this June (which is pretty much like Glastonbury for anybody in the construction, manufacturing, or warehousing industry) and there were a few things I noticed. Aside from all the in depth stuff about changes in health and safety codes, there was an emphasis on SEMA strengthening their relationship with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). SEMA want to turn their Codes of Practice into law and they claimed that HSE will help them do this. This is great news for SEMA (of course), yet the whole thing is actually part of a much bigger story.

In a government report, HSE says they have reduced regulations and “red tape” by 84% and have done this “without compromising or diluting health and safety protections for workers”. Now I’m sure the “Health and Safety Gone Mad!” crowd will claim that this is a victory for common sense. And, at first glance, it seems like they may be right. 72% of people surveyed in the report said that they struggle to keep on top of changes to health and safety law, and 64% of people said they weren’t sure which ones applied to them. Surely then, less of this sort of confusion is a good thing? Businesses can now spend more time doing what they do, thus speeding up the British supply chain.

And it’s not just opinion that is on the side of Tory policy, as economists claim that the British manufacturing is on the rise. Growth of British manufacturing that was picking up speed at the start of this year is set to continue. This, added to Cameron’s creation of two million new jobs since he came to power (the so-called “jobs miracle”), seems to suggest that the conservative attitude towards health and safety is helping the British supply chain. Rather than wrapping workers in cotton wool, they’ve let them get on with it and, as result, production has increased, right?

Sure, that’s one way of looking at things. Another way of looking at it is that businesses are being put in danger by an increasingly hands-off approach to health and safety. During the 15 years before the current government came to power, fatalities at work were decreasing. Over the last seven years, they have stayed the same. HSE claim they have reduced regulation “without compromising” on safety. And this is correct. Safety has not been compromised, it has been consistent for seven years. What has been compromised, however, is the progress of safety.

The problem with all these statistics is that correlation is does not always imply causation, as this graph showing the correlation between consumption of margarine and divorce rates in Maine clearly demonstrates. In other words, it may be the case that Cameron’s laissez faire approach to HSE has contributed to a stronger British supply chain. Yet, it may also be case that his policy has nothing to do with it and that HSE needs urgent investment. This is certainly what his critics believe as they argue that a HSE “timebomb”, caused by reduced spending, will lead to an big increase in work related deaths in the near future.

Health and safety regulation is part of the British supply chain for a reason. It has its place and, if a government ignores it, they do so at their peril. The government need to tread very carefully from this point onwards. Cameron may be right about the British supply chain today, but that does not mean that he will be right tomorrow.

Justin O’Sullivan is a business journalist whose years of experience as the founder of SEMA Racking Inspections makes him an expert on the construction, warehousing, and manufacturing industry as well as the British supply chain.

DISCLOSURE: This blog or its editor accepts any financial payment for the posting of this article. I include it based solely on its content.

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