Friday, 23 January 2009

Health and Safety

"5.35 ... The Health and Safety Executive (a non-departmental public body associated with the UK Department for Work and Pensions) is responsible for protecting the health and safety of people at work across the UK."
- Calman Commission, First Report, Page 44

No it doesn't. The Health and Safety Executive's remit does not extend across the UK. It only extends across the Great Britain part of the UK. In Northern Ireland they have a separate body - the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland.

If Calman can't get this right how can we be sure it even understands the UK it is trying to secure?

It would appear some of the submissions do know that since the report also says:

"5.35 ... The Commission has heard some arguments that devolving health and safety could be detrimental to the single market currently operating in the UK, but devolution is supported by others who see it as an obvious candidate for Scottish solutions to Scottish issues."
- Calman Commission, First Report, Page 44

Considering the Calman Commission appears to be taking this supposed UK single market as read the former comment does bode well for the latter one.

So considering how health and safety is devolved to Northern Ireland how "detrimental" is it to those supposed UK single market principles Calman espouses?

This corporate plan by the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland may give an insight. On page 3 it says:

Health and safety at work issues are global issues and as such HSENI needs to ensure that it keeps abreast of developments nationally and internationally. To that end, HSENI will maintain its close ties with the Health and Safety Commission and Executive in Great Britain and the Health and Safety Authority in the Republic of Ireland.

In addition, HSENI will continue to work with the European Commission’s occupational safety and health structures and OSHA in the United States.
Furthermore on page 5 it reads:

HSENI as the regional health and safety authority in Northern Ireland works closely with its sister authorities in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Through this invaluable interchange HSENI is able to ground its ideas and benchmark its actions.
That doesn't sound very detrimental to the concept of free trade not only within the UK but to the wider communities of the British Isles, the European Union and across the Atlantic. In comparison to the Business Plan and Strategy Plan of the GB HSE it sounds more focussed on the effects health and safety legislation can have on markets as they ripple out from Northern Ireland.

However even those reports themselves undermine the claim that devolving health and safety legislation would be "detrimental". Page 16 of the HSE GB (Great Britain) Business plan says:

Other planned work ensures that HSE remains an exemplar of proportionate, effective regulation and that the implementation of European Union health and safety strategy is in line with UK interests, influencing the European Commission (EC) to ensure that the implementation of the EU Health and Safety strategy takes full account of the UK’s aims, particularly on better regulation
Once again we see Calman's promotion of the supposed UK single market being put into serious question by the actual existence of the European one.

By only being able to have the power of "influencing" the EU Health and Safety strategy this clearly suggests there is a pan-EU health and safety strategy as part of the European single market.

If those who are promoting the concept of a supposed UK single market as important to Scotland's welfare and are so against the devolution of health and safety powers within that single market why do they then not want a single European Health and Safety Executive?

Perhaps the HSENI gives a hint on page 22:

In pursuance of this objective HSENI will:

* ensure that due account is taken of relevant EU Directives;

* ensure that legislative parity with Great Britain is maintained where appropriate
"Where appropriate"? This clearly shows that within the pan-EU health and safety strategy and the HSENI's "close ties" with HSE GB allows for local circumstances in Northern Ireland.

Therefore since its existence is neither detrimental to Calman's supposed UK single market or the actual EU one what else is stopping the devolution of health and safety powers for Scotland's "appropriate" local circumstances?

Why can't Scotland play its part in a union of unity over health and safety matters? If a devolved Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland can operate on an internationally co-operative basis with a government comprising Irish nationalists (SDLP), Irish republicans (Sinn Fein) and an Ulster first party (DUP) why can’t Scotland?

The only reason can be the retention of the constitutional status quo and to avert questions about other policy areas - the "union" that only benefits partisan interests. It will be interesting to see which way Calman jumps.

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