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What will the new government do for us?

Date posted
01 July 2024
Alan Plom
Estimated reading time
4 minute read

Coming closer to polling day in the UK General Election, we asked Alan Plom for his thoughts on the IOSH manifesto. Alan is an experienced health and safety professional, former Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Inspector and ex-Chair of the IOSH Rural Industries Group. While he warmed to the task from his specialist farming perspective, we believe his insight in the last of this election blog series has much to say about the future of OSH across the board.

Looking at the five Calls to Action advocated by IOSH in its manifesto, you would expect me to endorse the first two:

  • protect workers’ basic rights to safe, healthy and decent work
  • strengthen and expand world-leading UK system preventing harm at work.

Achieve this by “backing HSE to do its role, and help businesses prevent harm through increased staffing and funding that enables better guidance, more inspections and effective enforcement”.

Also, “equip small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with the resources they need to invest in prevention and early intervention around occupational health, including mental health”.

My sector, agriculture, continues to be the most dangerous industry, but inspections alone are not the answer. Even I accept that HSE has reached an impasse in the farming industry, though there is still a need for a ‘carrot and stick’ approach. However, the threat of a proactive farm inspection by HSE is now zero.

Change must come from within the industry, but that is a slow process and now relies upon intermediaries. The Government must turn this around to support them.

I recently attended the farm safety charity ‘Yellow Wellies’ 10th Anniversary Conference. This was the first time I had seen a Minister speak at a farm safety event (in England), but like London buses, three MPs came together, with the Labour and Lib-Dem Shadows taking part in a panel discussion. Not surprisingly, they all pledged ‘support’ for farmers, but this was mainly about making life ‘easier’ to reduce stress and suicides – a major theme of the day.

Labour applauded the work of HSE post-Covid, and called for HSE to be “fully-funded”. I hope they stick to their word.

Call to Action 3: Support businesses to tackle new and emerging workplace hazards

Do this by beingproactive on laws, regulations and support for businesses to ensure new technologies, climate change and the green transition do not harm workers”.

While politicians believe automation will overcome the labour shortage, robots will still require someone to clear blockages or repair integral machinery (a common cause of injuries), but 24/7! Education and engagement in International Standards is vital.

Call to Action 4: Promote a diverse, inclusive, skilled and motivated workforce

Equip workers with the necessary health and safety awareness, knowledge and skills to build positive and proactive cultures now and for future generations.

In the ‘90s, HSE trained farm workers’ union (TGWU, now Unite) ‘Roving Safety Reps’. Standards improved on farms they visited, but the scheme was rejected by employers, fearing it would become a trade union recruitment drive.

However, farmers respond to advice from fellow farmers, so perhaps there is scope for the new Government to encourage a ‘peer review’ approach, with (informed) farmers becoming local ‘ambassadors’, sharing good practice on ‘what works’?

Collaboration between HSE and intermediaries is vital to ensure key messages are consistent, timely and reinforced.

Applying findings from HSE and others’ research on effective communication and influencing behaviours would help to achieve this.

Call to Action 5: Build a more robust, sustainable economy

Review and where necessary update laws and regulations to ensure changing health and safety hazards and risks are addressed”.

This is another potentially fruitful area. Agriculture’s fatal incidence rate being 21 times the all-industry rate and five times that of construction is neither sustainable or ‘acceptable’.

No government will be keen to introduce new legislation, but an over-16 age limit and an explicit requirement for training and helmets to be worn when using quad bikes (ATVs) is needed. Crush protection devices are also now available and required in some countries. This could be the modern equivalent of the Tractor Safety Cab Regs which reduced total deaths by a third (from 25 to 2 per year).

We all aspire to ‘Zero Harm’, but how can this ever be achieved? Again, intermediaries have a key role to play, but this takes time and money.

Time for a farm safety fund?

Any initiative requires adequate funding and resources to sustain it. HSE does not have the funds or capacity to service this, and the farming industry is unwilling or unable to fund from within, so I would like to see the Government establish a central ‘pump-priming’ fund for worthy initiatives.

While I do not expect HSE to be given a blank cheque to recruit, I remain positive. Hopefully, the politicians are listening and the new Government will be supportive, rather than ‘diss’ health and safety as being a burden on business. A good start would be to champion HSE’s old mantra, “Good Health is Good Business”.

It’s not too much to ask, is it?

Learn more about our five clear calls to action for the next Government – and why they’re needed for a safer, healthier and happier future.

Last updated: 05 July 2024

Alan Plom


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