But the consultation and briefing events the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) hosted in January and February suggest the debate has moved on at last. Invited audiences around the UK heard about the new strategy, Helping Great Britain work well, and those at the London meeting, opened by Justin Tomlinson, the minister responsible for safety and health, could be forgiven for wondering where all the political animus against regulation had gone.
When the LÃ¶fstedt Report in 2013 defended most of the regulatory settlement, there was nowhere the antihealth and safety lobby could go other than restricting HSE funding. But the government's austerity ecomonics has brought similar budget restrictions to local authorities and other public bodies. The ideological arguments that safety and health law and practice is bad for business appear to have been silenced, for the time being at least.
The new strategy has six themes: getting every employer and worker to take responsibility for safety and health under the "Acting together" banner; supporting small businesses, with an emphasis on simple advice, debunking "over-the-top" provision and risk adverse approaches; addressing work-related ill health, not least because it costs everyone so much, including those made ill, employers and taxpayers; keeping pace with the changing workplace and workforce.
The HSE's last two priorities are publicising the business benefits of managing risks well, and sharing success, which is partly promoting the UK's approach and partly selling it directly as the HSE takes its services abroad.
The devil will be in the detail, but it is a good and balanced package that is so refreshing after years of sterile defensive discussions about the value of good workplace safety and health to a modern society. If good safety and health management is a good thing -- and, by implication, the opposite is a bad thing -- then we should concentrate on defining it, doing it, recognising and celebrating it.
Of course, there remain risks. The financial squeeze is restricting what the UK's leading institution for safety and health (the HSE) is able to do. There is also the possibility that revenue generation, both through fee for intervention and overseas service provision, could divert the HSE from its core function of supporting and insisting on high standards of risk management across UK workplaces.
But for now, I welcome the new strategy and the way that it is being presented as a refreshing next step in improving UK business through improving health and safety and health performance. If only there could be a similar sea change on funding social housing provision and care in the community.