Better Regulation: Better for whom? (bit.ly/23r9q5t) argues that the 29,000 deaths in the UK caused by airborne pollution, the million cases of food poisoning with 20,000 admitted to hospital and the 50,000 who die each year from workplace injuries and ill health are almost certainly underestimates. And much of this shortening and impairment of life is associated with a rate of inspection and enforcement that has been driven lower deliberately, Tombs argues.
The report claims that this isn't simply a matter of infrequent inspections and lax enforcement. Independent, effective business regulation has been systematically undermined by budget cuts, outsourcing and privatisation, says Tombs, creating a new environment in which the "social protection state" is being dissolved. Without minimum enforcement, the report asks, what is to protect us from air pollution, food poisoning and unhealthy workplaces?
Without minimum enforcement, the report asks, what is to protect us from air pollution, food poisoning and unhealthy workplaces?
In 2012/13 the Health and Safety Executive undertook 53% fewer inspections than in 2003/4 and brought 40% fewer prosecutions leading to 32% fewer convictions. Local authority cuts have had an even greater impact, leading to 56% fewer workplace inspections by environmental health officers -- and a 90% cut in preventive inspections, 40% fewer prosecutions and 38% fewer convictions. The argument has been that we can work in partnership with employers which, when they see the light, take reasonable action. But we also know that there are those that need to feel the heat. Has this latter group really halved in size in ten years?
Even if you don't agree with all Tombs' arguments, they are essential reading if we are to create a new narrative about the role of law and enforcement in these crucial areas for public protection. If we don't speak up now in defence of high standards, we could find that, as with public housing, we have lost what we once took for granted with little idea of how to get it back.
Finally, it would be strange to end this month's column without reference to the EU referendum but it is difficult to do so when even the Queen got into hot water during the Scottish vote simply by expressing the wish that people "think very carefully about the future".
Of course we should think carefully about any major decision, and expressing the hope that everyone does so should not be taken as support for one side or the other.
The UK has a proud record of driving its own health and safety improvements -- driven by legislation, by ingenuity and enterprise, by social conscience, by collective will and effort.
The EU has also made a large contribution; before directives initiated the "six pack" of regulations, for example, occupational hygienists routinely conducted health risk assessments. But they were less common and systematic for safety risks.
Given there are arguments on both sides about what we would continue to experience if we stayed in and what we would risk if we left, I shall stick with my hope that people come to considered decisions, and do not make short-term or prejudiced judgments.