Health budgets may need defending post Brexit decision
Monday 26th September 2016
From the archive: Just so you know, this article is more than 3 years old.
They revealed there was no decline in domestic spending in the British economy after the vote to leave the European Union in June. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has now rowed back slightly on its pessimism about the initial impact of the Brexit decision, upgrading its UK growth forecast to 1.8% for 2016.
Share prices are buoyant and the pound's post-referendum slide against the dollar has stopped. So far, so good; those who predicted an immediate economic tumble after the referendum have been wrongfooted.
Further ahead, the forecasts are mixed. Next year growth is predicted to fall to around 1%. Surveys by the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses and manufacturers' body EEF show business confidence has fallen; 29% of companies have reined in their investment plans for the next three years since the Brexit vote; only 12% intend to increase investment.
The economy enjoyed only a stuttering recovery after the double-dip recession of 2008-2011. Growth was stronger in services than in the sectors where safety spending is most critical. A recent poll found the leading 25 construction contractors were operating at a 1.2% profit margin on average.
All this is relevant to practitioners because, if the UK fell back into recession or even marginal growth, there would inevitably be pressure on OSH budgets and on standards. It may be coincidence but the levelling out of national injury figures in the past five years after decades of decline followed soon after the start of the economic downturn.
There is a logically sound argument that the principle of reasonable practicability -- which includes the assumption that an organisation should not have to bankrupt itself to protect workers -- would allow employers to lower their standards in times of diminished resources. In practice, it's an argument that wouldn't wash with the enforcing authorities or with anyone else.
As our understanding of risk matures and protective equipment becomes more refined, the bar rises. For all the media talk of "health and safety gone mad" the public expectation that their lives should be free of work-related injury and illness increases too.
It is risky for employers to cut back on safety provision in choppy trading waters, but discretionary spending on some of the more holistic programmes promoted in October's inaugural Health and Wellbeing Week is an easier saving.
If the UK does enter another rough patch it will be down to OSH practitioners, with their colleagues in occupational health and human resources, to continue to make the business case for these initiatives. They will be able to use the data on reduced absence and increased productivity which is beginning to accumulate in support of the ill health early interventions and fitness programmes (see www.iosh.co.uk/lifesavings) advocated so strongly by EEF chief medical adviser Sayeed Khan in this month's leader interview.
At IOSH Magazine we will try to find more of that data and put it in front of practitioners, while hoping there is no downturn to boost its salience.
A lot was packed into the two-day conference. The minister for manpower, Lim Swee Say, introduced Singapore’s national WSH 2018 Plus plan, which has three priorities: improving WSH performance, strengthening WSH competency and building collective WSH ownership.This shows that the country’s priorities are similar to those across the world. In view of the focus on competency it was great timing to introduce IOSH Blueprint to the delegates and we look forward to supporting those members who accessed it for the first time.
Many of the drivers and some of the teams are lobbying for a new device developed by Mercedes, named the “halo”, to be fitted over the front of car cockpits. The halo is designed to shield drivers from pieces of flying debris, but opinions are divided; Hamilton was quoted as saying it should be optional and that he prefers to take the risk.There is a contrast between apparent personal freedoms being curtailed “because of health and safety” and a society in which people generally feel so safe that they take it for granted and want redress when harm arises.
It’s certainly not because it is a rarefied classification. There was a time when profession was reserved for more obviously learned occupations such as teaching and law. But in the past 50 years it has been extended to encompass those in business support functions including human resources and information technology, whose roles are certainly no more significant than those controlling occupational risk.
One of the major lessons that should have been absorbed from the Aberfan disaster 50 years ago (see p 17) had to be restated forcefully in Lord Cullen’s report on the Piper Alpha drilling rig explosion and fire which took 167 lives. That lesson was that when a regulator gets too close to the industry it polices there is a high risk that its regulation becomes slack.
In her speech at the Conservative party conference, Mrs May said the UK Government will get tough with organisations which flout these issues.She also told delegates at the conference in Birmingham that there will be an emphasis on the need for improved public policy on skills and training.Richard Jones, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at IOSH, said: “These were all key areas highlighted in the IOSH manifesto. We are also encouraged that she refers to not only protecting, but enhancing worker’s rights, which we believe must include health and safety.”
They pointed out their administrations had been responsible for enacting Britain’s first UK safety and health statute: the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act 1902. They also claimed credit for successive factories acts and for drafting the Health and Safety at Work Act in the early 1970s – though it was passed into law by a Labour government.
Safety interventions should be practicable and cost-effective, but too much of an imbalance towards safety does not make economic sense for employers, argues Geoff Vaughan, who suggests ‘gross disproportion’ provides a practical limit.