The Conservative Party — and free market ideologues — have waged a long war on "safety culture," insisting that nonsensical, incoherent regulation that acted as a drag on every business except no-win/no-fee lawyers, who exploited these rules to victimise poor corporations with punishing lawsuits.
The reality is that the alleged health-and-safety-gone-made overreach was almost always an urban legend, a rule that didn’t exist and never existed (though it might be cited by a puny martinet of a middle-manager as a way to force their underlings to do their bidding). In their brilliant, beautifully written and beautifully researched 2014 book, In the Interests of Safety, Tracey Brown and Michael Hanlon from Sense about Science showed how tabloids, petty bosses and bureaucrats, and credulous members of the public invented the excesses of "Safety Culture" — while actual health and safety pros soberly and cautiously put forward the rules that stopped us all from dying of food poisoning, defective cars, or in terrible blazes in firetrap buildings.
Likewise, the stories about predatory lawyers and their absurd lawsuits rarely stand up to scrutiny: like that woman who sued McDonald’s because her coffee was too hot — a story so distorted as to be a lie, deliberately twisted by lobbyists and PR people for giant corporations who want to be able to injure their workers and customers with total impunity.
In 2012, then-UK-Prime-Minister David Cameron effected a policy that warmed the hearts of his party grandees and financiers: he said that his government would "abolish or consolidate up to half of all existing regulations" in order to "kill off the health and safety culture for good" because it was an "albatross around the neck of British businesses."
This wasn’t an aberration: just last year, Tory MPs voted down a rule that would require rented accomodation to be safe and "fit for human habitation." These MPs were also overwhelmingly landlords who would have had to personally upgrade their income property in order to comply with the rules.
The cladding on the Grenfell Towers was so highly flammable that the health-and-safety rules of most other countries (including the USA) had banned its use. Meanwhile, the health-and-safety rules of most other countries mandate sprinkler systems for high-rise buildings — and no one has ever died due to fire in high-rises with property installed and well-maintained sprinkler systems — but in the UK, this is optional, and Tory ministers spent the week insisting that they couldn’t be sure that sprinkler mandates would be in the cards for the future.
I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that seven years of rule by a party that waged a declared war on safety terminated with a deadly blaze in the wealthiest neighbourhood in the country. This isn’t the whole story: there’s the weaponisation of shelter as an investment vehicle first and a human right as a distant fourth or fifth, the brutal wealth gap that forces people to remain in substandard homes, the sell-off and underinvestment in public housing, the privatisation of management of public housing, and Boris Johnson’s gutting of the fire brigades.
But David Cameron’s 2012 pronouncements were party doctrine, an unassailable plank of the Nasty Party — a policy that was adopted by Donald Trump on taking office. It’s the same thinking that poisoned an entire city in Flint, Michigan and that insists that oil must not flow upstream of white settler cities’ water, but that deploys fully militarised shows of force and intelligence operations to force Native Americans to accept oil pipelines upstream of their water.
There will almost certainly be another UK election in the weeks to come, and we owe it to all the people who have been maimed and poisoned and killed by austerity to vote out the plutocrats and their boot-lickers.
Mr Cameron added: "Killing off the health and safety nonsense for good is not something government can do alone. It needs a change in the national mindset.
"We need to realise, collectively, that we cannot eliminate risk and that some accidents are inevitable. We need to take responsibility for our actions and rely on common sense rather than procedure.
"Above all, we need to give British businesses the freedom and discretion they need to grow, create jobs and drive our economy forward."
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "This shows just how out of touch with the reality of working life Number 10 is.
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