This latest edition of the Labour Research Department’s annual guide to health and safety law, Health and Safety Law 2016, sets out the law using clear and practical language, explains the changes that have taken place since the last edition, and addresses further changes and likely developments for 2016-17. It is aimed at trade union members and reps, and will be of particular use to safety reps.
This year the guide is being published shortly after the European Union (EU) Referendum which resulted in a vote to leave.
In April 2016, the TUC warned that leaving the EU could put millions of UK workers at increased risk of accidents or injuries. Its EU Membership and Health & Safety report set out that EU legislation has helped stop illnesses and injuries at work and saved lives.
“Much of the health & safety law in the UK is now underpinned by the EU. Almost two-thirds (63%) of new British health & safety regulations introduced between 1997-2009 originated in Europe (41 out of 65 laws),” it reported. “These new safety rules have contributed to a reduction in workplace fatalities in the UK. In 1992 there were 368 worker fatalities in Britain; this dropped to 142 last year. Over this period, the rate of deaths fell from 1.5 to 0.46 per 100,000 workers.”
It also notes that EU law has had a significant impact in areas including construction and asbestos. And it warned ahead of the leave vote that the government, which has made clear its intention to reduce so-called “red tape”, will now be able to decide whether or not to keep the health and safety protection derived from EU law.
As the booklet went to press, the timetable for withdrawal from EU membership was not clear, but it will take at least two years and as he resigned, prime minister David Cameron indicated that he would not initiate the process, leaving this instead to whoever becomes the new leader of the Tory party in the autumn.
Not all unions backed the remain campaign, including train drivers’ union ASLEF which instead backed a vote to leave. Commenting on the result, it said: “ASLEF will continue to campaign to protect workers’ rights in the UK and abroad and to safeguard our vital public services including the NHS. International solidarity between British workers and European workers existed long before the European Union and will continue long into the future.”
In addition, the Trade Union Act 2016 (TUA 16) gained Royal Assent at the beginning of May, although a statutory instrument is needed to bring the Act into force, and its commencement date is not yet known. As well as introducing more restrictions on the right to strike, the Act allows ministers to make new regulations to force public sector employers to publish information about the amount and cost of facility time for trade union officials, including safety representatives. The regulations will be able to extend not only to public authorities, but also to organisations with “functions of a public nature” and “funded wholly or mainly from public funds”.
Even more worryingly, the TUA 16 also contains “reserve powers” to allow a Minister to make regulations capping the total amount of paid facility time (again in the public sector, or where the organisation’s activities are mainly publicly funded). Facility time for safety reps under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 is included within this reserve power. As a result of union campaigning, the power cannot be exercised until at least three years’ worth of data on facility time have been collected and analysed, and only after consultation, followed by twelve months’ notice to the employer.
Detailed regulations are needed before the new laws on facility time in the TUA 16 can be implemented.
The government argued: “We simply want to ensure that the time that trade union reps collectively spend on union duties and activities during working hours at taxpayers’ expense is justifiable and accountable and that it represents value for money.”
But TUC head of health and safety Hugh Robertson pointed out that there is no doubt that trade union health and safety representatives make a massive difference and the TUC has produced evidence that they save the economy the equivalent of £130m-£360m in the public sector alone through reduced injury and ill-health (see Chapter 4). “What kind of message is the Government giving by even thinking of trying to restrict this?” he asked.
The role of the union movement’s 100,000 safety reps – and effective solidarity and collective action to champion safe working practices – are therefore now more important than ever. It is crucial for reps to continue to link health and safety and organising in the interests of all workers, as well as continuing to campaign at local and national level.
Health and safety law 2016 aims to provide trade union reps and safety reps with a comprehensive guide to the law on health and safety at work. The booklet examines the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the regulations made under the Act that deal with specific areas of health and safety. It looks at:
• the basic structure of health and safety law (Chapter 1);
• health and safety enforcement (Chapter 2);
• the management of health and safety (Chapter 3);
• safety representatives and safety committees (Chapter 4);
• the workplace and the working environment (Chapter 5);
• hazardous substances (Chapter 6);
• work equipment (Chapter 7);
• physical hazards, such as manual handling and repetitive tasks, fire, noise, vibration, radiation, electricity and gas (Chapter 8);
• hours of work (Chapter 9);
• the reporting of accidents and ill health (Chapter 10); and
• stress, bullying, harassment and violence (Chapter 11).
The Acts and regulations referred to in this booklet can all be found on the Legislation UK website at: www.legislation.gov.uk.
Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs) and guidance on regulations are published by the HSE and can be downloaded free of charge from its website at: www.hse.gov.uk.
This booklet also provides examples from legal claims, known as “case law”. In each instance the case reference is given, consisting of the name of the individual or body making the application to the Court and the individual or body against whom it is being made.
For example, Allison v London Underground Ltd  IRLR 440, tells you that the applicant was called Allison, the case was brought against London Underground Ltd and that the judgment was reported in the law reports for 2008. The letters IRLR stand for the publication it was reported in, Industrial Relations Law Reports, and the number 440 that the case was reported on page 440.
Other relevant court cases and employment tribunal decisions not reported in IRLR are referenced wherever possible, either as they appeared in the press, or by the Court or tribunal reference number.
The Labour Research Department (LRD) provides an enquiry service for affiliates and deals with many health and safety enquiries from union members and reps. See: www.lrdpublications.org.uk/affiliations.php, for details of how to affiliate.
The monthly publications Safety Rep, Labour Research and Workplace Report also include many health and safety topics as do some LRD booklets. For further information and ordering details see the LRD website at: www.lrdpublications.org.uk.