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Health and safety can be quick win for new Government

Date posted
05 July 2024
Type
Opinion
Author
Ruth Wilkinson
Estimated reading time
4 minute read

The UK General Election results are in and, with Sir Keir Starmer a clear winner in the race for Number 10, IOSH’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs Ruth Wilkinson says it’s time for a greater focus on protecting people at work.

In stark contrast to when his predecessor announced the beginning of the General Election campaign, the skies cleared as the UK’s new Prime Minister gave his first speech in the role.

And as I watched Sir Keir Starmer address the waiting media and the nation from outside Number 10 Downing Street, I couldn’t help but wonder if those clearer skies were a sign of things to come.

He spoke about the “urgent work” his Government must do and alluded to creating better support for workers. Of course, people across the UK undertake varied jobs which can expose them to many different hazards and risks. So, we must have a focus on preventing harm and protecting workers and their rights.

Significant opportunities

Sir Keir has spoken widely about his and the Labour Party’s plan for change, highlighting six “first steps”, which include making the economy more stable and cutting waiting times for NHS treatment.

There are significant opportunities to make a real difference to people and their working lives. Focusing on their health, safety and wellbeing can not only protect them but increase their motivation and performance, thereby contributing to the economy and helping to support the NHS along the way.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has revealed that 138 people were killed at work in 2023-24. This figure is dwarfed by the number injured in workplace accidents (561,000 in 2022-23) and the number who are suffering from work-related ill health (1.8 million in 2022-23). On top of this, there is the major issue of mental ill health which needs to be tackled, with workplaces playing a major role in this.

As mentioned in IOSH’s own manifesto, workplace injuries and work-related ill health cost the UK economy an estimated £20.7 billion in 2021-22, so it is clear what the national economic cost is of poor health and safety.

Added to this is the human toll. As well as the tragic fatalities, many people have their lives severely impacted by either accidents and injuries at work or ill health and diseases caused by workplace hazards and exposures. In addition to the personal worker impacts and the impacts to the employer, it may also mean more people seeking diagnosis and treatment through the NHS, thereby further inflating waiting times. This demonstrates the strong need to approach occupational hazards and risks with a prevention-first approach.

Five calls to action

So, if the new Government is serious about stabilising the economy and supporting the NHS, focusing on occupational safety and health (OSH) is a good place to start. In our manifesto, IOSH made five calls to action around how the Government might go about this.

They were:

  • protecting workers’ rights to safe, healthy and decent work
  • strengthening and expanding the UK’s world-leading system that prevents harm at work
  • supporting businesses to tackle new and emerging workplace hazards
  • promoting a diverse, inclusive, skilled and motivated workforce
  • building a more robust, sustainable economy.

Our manifesto explores these areas in more detail and breaks down some of the things the Government could do to deliver on these calls, which includes adequate resource and funding for the HSE and investing in strong occupational health systems.

Job role
Company

In addition to these calls, there are a number of other areas that the Government could explore, as IOSH highlighted following the King’s Speech last autumn. These include strengthening the Modern Slavery Act and drafting a Mental Health Act Reform Bill to tackle the significant issue of mental health.

We recognise that Sir Keir Starmer has many issues to tackle as he becomes Prime Minister and that organisations across sectors will be all calling for him to act in different areas. But few can unlock the door to as many benefits as focusing on workers’ safety, health and wellbeing.

In the coming weeks, IOSH will be seeking to engage with the new Government and its departments, to demonstrate the value of good OSH and lend support in finding solutions to the many challenges before us. By working together, we’re looking forward to we can continue to look forward to clearer skies ahead.

We've made five clear calls to action for the new UK Parliament, informed by our survey of IOSH members. Find out what they are – and why these workplace safety and health concerns must be heard.

Last updated: 05 July 2024

Ruth Wilkinson

Job role
Head of Policy and Public Affairs
Company
IOSH

Themes

  • Strategy and influence

Topics

  • building standards
  • IOSH statement on UK General Election
  • What will the new government do for us?
  • Health and safety investment can unlock significant returns