Academic: UK Brexit plans increase risk of Grenfell style safety disasters


Warnings over government plans outlined in Queen’s Speech

A LEADING Scottish health and safety expert has warned that the continued pursuit of Hard Brexit plans could worsen health and safety protections.

Professor of health effectiveness at Stirling University Andrew Watterson said that reducing regulations had been a key part of Conservative Brexiteers’ argument for leaving the EU, and that proceeding with these plans would further undermine a health and safety and public services decline weakened by decades of governments pursuing economic liberalisation.

The comments came as Prime Minister Theresa May outlined her programme for government for the next two years through the Queen’s Speech. The government, which lost it’s majority in the General Election, is more divided over the nature of Brexit than ever before.

Hard Brexiteers want a full break from the EU, including the single market and freedom of movement. However, Chancellor Philip Hammond has said the priority is on protecting the UK economy – which could mean less of a break from the EU’s market and regulatory framework.

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Speaking to CommonSpace Watterson said: “This all goes back to people like Margeret Thatcher but goes on through Blair and Brown as well. They were very keen on cutting back on regulation and were arguing in Europe that this should be the case.

“This is the neo-liberal argument; we don’t need all these regulations and we don’t need all of the stuff relating to it. You chop your tax, you chop your regulation and it’s easier for companies and speculators to make a lot of money.

Professor Andrew Watterson

“It’s been applied not only to the workplace, which is covered by the health and safety executive. It’s been applied to smaller workplaces, which is covered by environmental health officers in local authorities.

“One of the claims for going for this [Brexit] by those who supported it in the Conservative party, is that they’d be able to get rid of a lot of these regulations, because they won’t need them. Rather than trying to raise standards everywhere there is a race to the bottom.”

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Waterson also said that the push-back of regulations was compounded by cuts to public services. Some had expected austerity to be toned-down in the Queen’s Speech, and while many key Tory manifesto promises including grammar schools, means-testing for winter fuel allowance and the end of the triple lock on pensions did not appear the speech still promised fiscal restriant.

Watterson, who is a leading expert on fire fighter safety and has charted the “unacceptable” high number of instances of fire fighter deaths and injuries in recent years, said that cuts and de-regulation were now clearly threatening the public.

He said: “The ramifications go far beyond what effects the worker, because what effects the worker also effects the public. If you see a run-down in fire regulations which threaten the fire fighters, if you see a run-down in the resources avaliable, it will also pose dangers to the public.

“The Fire Brigades Union has been warning for some time there were problems with the health and safety regime.

“You got the cuts in health and safety, the softening of regulation – at the same time as the tenants are warning of problems.

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In September the FBU attacked the UK Government for ending the policy of insisting new schools were equipped with sprinkler systems, despite them being a cheap and effective way of saving people from fires.

Though instances of workplace accidents have decreased in the UK, mainly owing to the decline in construction and manufacturing employment, industrial accidents and health damage from economic activity remain high.

Around 13,000 workers die from occupational illness every year in the UK, Watterson said.

“That’s not been going down in any significant way at all,” he added.

Picture courtesy of ChiralJon

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