Scotland’s referendum: a unique opportunity to improve health and safety

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The independence referendum in Scotland presents a unique opportunity to reshape and improve occupational health and safety in the country if there is a ‘yes’ vote. We have examined some of the issues involved in more detail in our recent report Occupational Health and Safety in Scotland: an opportunity to improve work environments for all.

If there is a ‘no’ vote, little if anything will change. The coalition indicates its established occupational health and safety policies will continue. The SNP government, however, has indicated a yes vote would mean the Scottish parliament will decide on appropriate health and safety laws.

It wishes “to work with all interested parties to ensure safety (in the oil and gas industries) is further enhanced, building on the existing health and safety regime to develop a modern, rigorous and well-funded Scottish regime with stronger occupational health, safety and environmental controls, particularly over the offshore oil industry including improved offshore oil helicopter transport”. A new health and safety body would replace HSE in regulating the oil and gas industry.

An independent Scotland, we argue, should introduce new health and safety laws, agencies and related budgets and structures involving employment, health, local authorities and environmental bodies. This would involve creating a properly funded and staffed Scottish Occupational Health and Safety Agency that would develop prevention policies and practice. Within such a body would be a labour inspectorate advising, informing, inspecting and regulating workplaces with regard to occupational health and safety.

Good occupational health and safety and work environment models already exist in Nordic countries of a similar population size and configuration to Scotland and they have a better record than the UK in protecting workers and communities from work environment risks without damaging economic growth and innovation. Scotland can follow them.

Professor Andrew Watterson is part of the Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group at the University of Stirling.



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