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Workplace Health and Safety

Volume 529: debated on Monday 13 June 2011

4. What estimate the Health and Safety Executive has made of the annual cost to the economy of inadequate workplace health and safety. (58784)

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that the annual cost to Great Britain of workplace injuries and work-related ill health is currently in the order of £20 billion.

Last year, there were 152 fatalities and 26,000 major injuries in the workplace and more than 800,000 people suffered a work-related illness. As a consequence of the cuts, the HSE has withdrawn a large number of workplace inspections. How will the Government ensure that those figures do not increase year on year?

As a former union official, the hon. Gentleman will know that the biggest challenge we face is employers who cut corners and break the rules. I would have thought that he would welcome a change in policy that focuses health and safety inspections not on low-risk, good employer sites, which have taken up so much resource in the past, but on employers who are not playing by the book and who endanger their employees and the public. That is where I want our regulatory effort to focus.

As my right hon. Friend has said, we all agree that health and safety legislation, when applied correctly, is very useful and important, but does he also agree that when it is applied inappropriately and gold-plated, it can cost jobs and damage the economy?

I absolutely agree. Let me be clear that I believe it is extremely important to get health and safety right. As the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) suggested, we need to protect people against real dangers in the workplace. However, we have to understand that if the system is over-bureaucratic, it will lead to the closure of businesses and cost jobs, and that does nobody any favours. The job of Government is to find the right balance, and that is what we seek to do.