Mad for it

I lived abroad for a long time and when I came back  a number of things had happened. Teenagers were bigger, smoking was no longer cool and people were using a phrase I’d never heard before “Health and safety GONE MAD!!!”. What, are we too safe and healthy now? Have we cracked poverty and disease? A cure for cancer?

Seemingly we live in an age where you’re mad to give a bugger about your own health and those of the people you work with. This annoys me, and at the risk of falling into a Daily T ambush to divert us from the demise of advanced capitalism, I’ve got to speak up and tell you that I’m mad about health and safety.

Over the summer I was not simply missing you, but also talking to trade unionists in the UK about mental health at work, and how the hell we’re going to survive this economic crisis (only 25% of cuts have actually taken place so far, just saying).  What is actually happening in the UK  is a dramatic decline in health and safety at work. This isn’t just about accidents and falling off ladders, it’s about people being too scared to take any sick leave and a rise in depression and suicides amongst working people. An ugly part of the UK’s employment relations system is that occupational health schemes are being used to dismiss people, sometimes for as little as 3 days leave. We’re seeing the return of the Bradford Factor which measures short periods of absence, down to the hour, and automatic warnings and dismissals being issued. As sickness gets turned into a sign of lack of employability, people are forced to make essentially masochistic choices about what matters more, health or money. In interviews I’ve heard stories about people on chemotherapy having to take annual leave to go to hospital because they fear another sick day will terminate their careers.

There is a deep and profound link between health and safety. If you are not safe in your job, you are unlikely to be healthy. The reality is that as human beings we are likely to get sick at some point. Being sick is not a character failing or passive aggressive attempt to scupper entrepreneurialism. Precarious work is strongly linked to accidents and poor mental health and yet precarious workers are precisely the ones who won’t risk their jobs by taking sick leave. Its’ no surprise  that precarious people get ill more and die earlier. Brutal but true.

Even worse is to go at the problem of sickness in a sadistic frenzy attacking basic health safeguards. It is both cruel and masochistic, denying our duty of care to ourselves and the people we work with so next time you hear someone say the phrase “its health and safety gone mad”, you know you are in the presence of a pervert and should act accordingly. Dump and run, my friend, dump and run.

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