Those who are happy with HSE's efficiency savings see them as part of a larger government plan. In a separate report, the UK government announced that HSE spending "will continue to be reduced in line with the rest of the public sector". The government expects the reduction in spending to lead to "innovative approaches" to health and safety. In other words, the government wants private enterprise to step in as part of Prime Minister David Cameron's "Big Society".
The opinion of workers in the British supply chain appear to be on the side of these changes. According to the aforementioned HSE report, 72 per cent of people surveyed said that they found it hard to follow changes to health and safety law, and 64 per cent of workers said they did not know which laws applied to them. From this, it seems clear that a supply chain with less “red tape” would be very welcome.
Cameron’s plan also has support from economists. Since Cameron has been in power, two million more people have found employment, a trend that some have labelled the “jobs miracle”. Moreover, in a recent press conference with Barack Obama, Cameron was showered with praise by the American president. He talked specifically of the UK and U.S. economies “standing out” saying that “we must be doing something right”. Then there is the fact that UK exports, shaky for a while, have risen in 2015. These statistics may not be directly related to a more efficient HSE, but it may well be the case that the UK government really is “doing something right”.
However, the modest growth in UK exports may also be under threat from government policy. According to the Office of National Statistics, the U.S. remains one of the biggest importers of British products, but the other four (Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Ireland) are all EU members. If the British government is serious about its plans to leave the EU, then it will need to strengthen its trading relationship with the U.S. as well as its sixth-biggest importer (China) or risk massive damage to the British supply chain.
Added to this, critics of the reduced spending claim that a steep rise in deaths is on the way due to the 34 per cent reduction in spending which, as mentioned earlier, the government claims will “continue to be reduced”. The government is already facing criticism for causing deaths elsewhere through its austerity plans, and this predicted increase in work-related deaths will not help their relationship with voters.
Future predictions aside, even if the UK government’s current spending cuts have not led to an increase in work-related deaths yet, a critic might still hold them accountable for not decreasing work-related deaths. Death rates, which were falling during the 15 years before Cameron’s government, have plateaued. In attempting to do more with less, the current government seem to eager to improve on the British economy but keep death rates the same.
A sad possibility that begins to emerge from this that a less safe supply chain is a more economical one. Science writer Bahar Gholipour notes a worrying correlation between a booming economy and an increase in death rates. Yet allowing a company free reign to produce as much as it wants without worrying about safety is not a recipe for success. Reduced safety may make a supply chain more economical in the short term, but it is certainly not sustainable.
Safety in the supply chain is paramount, and deaths in the supply chain are tragic and damaging for the reputation of businesses and governments alike. Qatar, Bangladesh, and the international firms associated with supply chains in those countries have all come under fire for deaths that could have been prevented. Aside from deaths like these being awful and unethical, they are also bad for business as no investor wants to be involved with a company, or a country, that has an abusive supply chain. The UK is far from becoming the next Bangladesh in terms of production. However, the tragedies that have occurred in these economically developing nations should act as a reminder of what happens when profit is considered more important that safety.
The UK is still a safe place to produce materials for the world supply chain, and the successes in British trade, though modest, should not be overlooked. Still, safety is not something that should be compromised on. The fact is that a safe workplace is not necessarily an unproductive one anymore than an unsafe workplace is a productive one.
The challenge of creating a supply chain that is both safer and more economical is the challenge that the UK and the world will face in the coming years. Three years ago, the United Nations claimed that it believed that businesses should aim for energy production that is safer as well as greener. In doing so, they made the world aware that a better economy need not come at the cost of 270 million work-related deaths every year. Safety can, and should, serve to make both the UK and the world’s supply chain more efficient, not less.
Source: SEMA Racking Inspections
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