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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer



I have now completed more than 20 international health and safety topics for publication. These have covered individual countries from the richest to the poorest in the world. A comparative analysis of these countries shows, for example:

· All countries have a detailed and comprehensive system of rules dealing with health and safety at work, broadly compliant with International Labour Organisation requirements and resolutions, with the broad aim of protecting workers.

· Unsurprisingly, the level of compliance with these rules varies significantly from country to country. For example, Japan – one of the world’s wealthiest nations, has a highly detailed set of laws governing health and safety and a very high level of compliance. At the other extreme, the West African state of Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries on the planet, has a health and safety system based on the French Labour Code, a legacy of colonialism. 80 per cent of the country’s population is engaged in subsistence agriculture. For them, health and safety is an irrelevance.

· India, a country with extremes of wealth and poverty, also has a health and safety system with post-colonial implications. Again, a large part of the population works in small-scale agriculture or has informal employment. The enforcement of health and safety rules is minimal. For example, a large number of women are engaged in the informal production of bidis, a type of simple cigarette. They are reported to suffer a range of diseases cause by constant exposure to tobacco and tobacco dust. For them, health and safety has no meaning.

· Many of the countries analysed have reportedly high levels of corruption. It is not possible to estimate the extent to which this affects health and safety enforcement but it would be naive to assume that health and safety escapes bribery and corruption issues.

· The British system comes out reasonably well. Based on the Health and Safety at Work, etc., Act 1974, an expressly socialist measure created by Michael Foot, and augmented with regulations based on EU Directives, it is wide-ranging and generally well-enforced despite austerity-based cuts to the funding of the Health and Safety Executive as the enforcement body. It was thought that Brexit and the general anti-regulatory approach of the government, could erode the British system. So far, this has not happened. The EU-based regulations remain in force until and unless they are expressly repealed. Britain has a centralised enforcement agency. Many countries have a multiplicity of institutions responsible for health and safety.

· One aspect of British health and safety which compares badly with most other countries is the concept of Crown immunity. In summary, this means that the government is exempt from health and safety prosecutions. There are many examples of horrific cases where the government, as employer, could not be prosecuted for very serious breaches of the law, some of which have resulted in death or serious injury. A number of other countries exempt public authorities from general health and safety law but have specific rules governing the public sector. There is no general exemption.

· Despite the jibes of anti-regulators, “elf ’n’safety” is acknowledged throughout the world as a crucial element of workers’ rights. The theory may often be far from the reality in many countries but at least the theory is, in general, a global concept.

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