"The need to improve working conditions is a collective concern, prompted by both humanitarian and economic considerations", the EU commission tells us, to which effect it proclaims that, "Health and Safety at work represents today one of the most important most advanced fields of the social policy of the Union."
The commission also tells us that "the improvement of health and safety of the workers already started from 1952 under the European Coal and Steel Community" but it was not until 1978 that we saw the first of what was to become a torrent of legislation, with a new Directive (now repealed), this one rejoicing in the snappy title: "Council Directive 78/610/EEC of 29 June 1978 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States on the protection of the health of workers exposed to vinyl chloride monomer".
Next year, no doubt, the EU commission will be parading an important anniversary – thirty years of Community health and safety legislation - but, a mere 29 years on, however, we are beginning to see the results of all this effort, heralded by The Times in a headline today which reads: "Firms criticised over workplace deaths".
We are thus informed that, "Businesses, schools and hospitals in Britain are failing to prevent thousands of accidents and hundreds of avoidable deaths a year." Moreover, a total of 241 deaths were caused by accidents at work last year, 11 percent more than in 2005-06. Nearly one third (31 percent) of the deaths occurred in the construction sector.
The paper's source is a report commissioned by the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT), which, perversely, criticises the "complete failure of the voluntary approach to reducing injuries and fatalities in the workplace" and "has prompted calls for stricter health and safety laws".
But, as any employer will tell you, there is absolutely no shortage of health and safety law, witnessed by the consolidated list from the EU commission.
Many commentators have in fact argued that, after a certain point, there is an inverse correlation between the amount of regulation and safety. Beyond the basic minimum of laws – intelligently enforced – safety deteriorates rather than improves, with the increase in new laws. This is very much the same argument we get from Paul Smith of Safespeed, in respect of road safety law – borne out by the slackening off in the rate of reduction of road deaths, as the control regime gets more draconian.
But it is not only the quantity of law, but its (poor) quality, that has an adverse impact – as common sense might tell you. And, if you need an example, all you need to do is look at the latest creation from the EU commission. This also goes under a really snappy title, viz:
Directive 2007/30/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2007 amending Council Directive 89/391/EEC, its individual Directives and Council Directives 83/477/EEC, 91/383/EEC, 92/29/EEC and 94/33/EC with a view to simplifying and rationalising the reports on practical implementation (Text with EEA relevance).Now for the good news. The first paragraph of the recital only contains one sentence. And the bad news? It is 559 words long – an absolute classic:
The preparation by the Member States of practical implementation reports as a basis for the Commission’s periodical reports on the implementation of the Community rules on the safety and health of workers, is provided for by Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work (3), and by the individual Directives within the meaning of Article 16(1) of that Directive, namely: Council Directive 89/654/EEC of 30 November 1989 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the workplace (4), Council Directive 89/655/EEC of 30 November 1989 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the use of work equipment by workers at work (5), Council Directive 89/656/EEC of 30 November 1989 concerning the minimum health and safety requirements for the use by workers of personal protective equipment at the workplace (6), Council Directive 90/269/EEC of 29 May 1990 concerning the minimum health and safety requirements for the manual handling of loads where there is a risk particularly of back injury to workers (7), Council Directive 90/270/EEC of 29 May 1990 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for work with display screen equipment (8), Council Directive 92/57/EEC of 24 June 1992 concerning the implementation of minimum safety and health requirements at temporary or mobile construction sites (9), Council Directive 92/58/EEC of 24 June 1992 concerning the minimum requirements for the provision of safety and/or health signs at work (10), Council Directive 92/85/EEC of 19 October 1992 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding (11), Council Directive 92/91/EEC of 3 November 1992 concerning the minimum requirements for improving the safety and health protection of workers in the mineral extracting industries through drilling (12), Council Directive 92/104/EEC of 3 December 1992 on the minimum requirements for improving the safety and health protection of workers in surface and underground mineral-extracting industries (13), Council Directive 93/103/EC of 23 November 1993 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for work on board fishing vessels (14), Council Directive 98/24/EC of 7 April 1998 concerning the protection of the health and safety of workers from the risks related to chemical agents at work (15), Directive 1999/92/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 1999 on minimum requirements for improving the safety and health protection of workers potentially at risk from explosive atmospheres (16), Directive 2002/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 June 2002 on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (vibration) (1), Directive 2003/10/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 February 2003 on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (noise) (2), Directive 2004/40/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (electromagnetic fields) (3) and Directive 2006/25/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 April 2006 on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to risks arising from physical agents (artificial optical radiation) (4).And that tells you everything you need to know about the commission's approach to health and safety.
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