The fire at Grenfell tower shocked and horrified the nation. Over 80 people lost their lives, and hundreds more lost homes and loved ones. It seems incomprehensible that a tragedy of this scale can occur in 21st century Britain and we mustn’t allow this situation to slip unnoticed from the collective memory with the passage of time. Nothing can bring back those lost to the fire, but we can ensure that action is taken to prevent any recurrence of this dreadful incident. It’s sad to think that a major incident is required to fundamentally challenge the status quo, but hopefully there is some comfort in knowing that lives were not lost in vain and that learning has been applied to drive safety improvements.
Health and safety is often viewed as an unnecessary burden, getting in the way of business and social enterprise, attracting high-profile headlines and widespread ridicule. This has made health and safety a focus for the Government’s deregulation agenda. However, the outcomes from the Grenfell fire underline an ongoing requirement for concise and proportionate regulation, establishing clear requirements and responsibilities, so that risk is managed effectively and people can live their lives without worrying about safety.
It is timely to consider this as Brexit negotiations begin. Some have called for a significant cut in health and safety regulation as we leave the EU. But we urge caution. The UK regulatory system for health and safety is truly world class. It has significantly reduced injuries and illness over the last 40 years, and is still very much fit for purpose. However, there are still challenges ahead. Britain is now a professional and service-based economy, placing different demands on workers. Technology is blurring the lines between life and work, with many people now able to work from anywhere that has an internet connection. Automation, augmented reality and artificial intelligence are changing the way in which people interact with work processes, and the gig economy is changing the nature of employment relationships.
Much has changed since the British Safety Council was established 60 years ago, and there is still more to be done, particularly in the field of wellbeing and mental health, but we have a robust framework to enable this, and it has never been more important. People are at the heart of the British economy and, as we leave the EU, businesses will increasingly focus on taking care of their people, their biggest asset.
There are exciting times ahead, but it is essential that we maintain a focus on health, safety and wellbeing in order to ensure that Britain is fit to meet the challenges of the future.