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How does Labour say it would make work safer if it wins the election?

How does Labour say it would make work safer if it wins the election?


In the run up to the General Election, Andrea Oates looks at what Labour have pledged to do to improve health and safety in the workplace if they are elected to power on July 4.


Labour’s Plan to Make Work Pay: Delivering A New Deal for Working People, published shortly after the 2024 General Election announcement, is lighter on detail on how a Labour government would make workplaces safer than its 2022 employment rights green paper outlining the New Deal.

Unite’s General Secretary, Sharon Graham, said the revised version “has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. The number of caveats and get outs means it is in danger of becoming a bad bosses’ charter.” But the Usdaw shopworkers’ union gave Labour and the New Deal its full backing and said it would be transformational.  Usdaw’s General Secretary Paddy Lillis described it as “the biggest offer any party has ever made to workers”.

Looking specifically at where health and safety laws and guidance could change under a Labour government, the plan contains a commitment to “review health and safety guidance and regulations with a view to modernising legislation and guidance where it does not fully reflect the modern workplace”.


Specifically, there is a promise to modernise health and safety guidance on extreme temperatures, with preventative action and steps to ensure safety at work, recognising that in a number of sectors, working temperatures are regularly unacceptably high for those working in both strenuous and sedentary jobs.
At present, the approved code of practice (ACoP) to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 specifies a minimum temperature of 16°C, or 13°C if the work involves considerable physical activity, but does not specify a maximum temperature. Unions and the TUC have long campaigned for legal maximum limit on indoor workplace temperatures. With summer temperatures exceeding 40°C for the first time in 2022, there have also been increasing calls for protection from exposure to high temperatures for outdoor workers.
As part of its review, Labour says it will work with employers, trade unions and other stakeholders to support the wellbeing of workers and their long-term physical and mental health.

Post-COVID world

The plan also includes a commitment to introduce a “right to switch off”, so working from home does not lead to homes becoming “24/7 offices”.  The pandemic has led to a “step change” in flexible and remote working practices and provided opportunities to fit work around family life. But it has also “inadvertently blurred the lines between work and home”, the document says.
A Labour government’s “right to switch off” would follow models already in place in countries including Ireland, where all employees officially have the “right to disconnect from work and have a better work-life balance”. A code of practice introduced in Ireland in April 2021 enshrines three key rights:

  • The right of an employee to not have to routinely perform work outside their normal working hours
  • The right not to be penalised for refusing to attend to work matters outside of normal working hours
  • The duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect (by not routinely emailing or calling outside normal working hours, for example).

Labour will also review whether existing regulations and guidance adequately support and protect people experiencing Long Covid symptoms. Long Covid is not currently recognised as an occupational disease for the purposes of the no-fault industrial injuries disablement benefit (IIDB) scheme. And it is not listed as a condition that is automatically a disability under the Equality Act 2010. The TUC has called for Long Covid to be recognised both as an occupational disease and a disability under the Equality Act.


The New Deal plan states that Labour will ensure “health and safety reflects the diversity of the workforce”, and it will require employers to create and maintain workplaces and working conditions free from harassment, including by third parties. Labour would “properly tackle sexual harassment at work” and will “strengthen the legal duty for employers to take all reasonable steps to stop sexual harassment before it starts”.  

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 is due to come into force in October 2024. The Fawcett Society gender equality campaign explains that the Act will create a “preventative duty” and “moves us from a culture of redress to one of prevention”.

“This means clear policies, training, and proper, impartial investigations into reported harassment,” it adds.

However, the UNISON public services union explains that as a result of amendments to the legislation in the House of Lords, a clause that would have made employers liable for third party harassment was removed. Another amendment means employers will only be required to take “reasonable steps” to prevent harassment in the workplace, rather than “all reasonable steps”.

Labour has pledged to strengthen protection for whistleblowers, including by updating protection for women who report sexual harassment at work. It will extend health and safety and blacklisting protections to self-employed workers. And employers with more than 250 employees will be required to produce menopause action plans, setting out how they will support employees through the menopause. It will publish guidance on measures to consider relating to issues including uniform and temperature.

Worker rights

The plan promises to introduce legislation in Parliament to deliver the New Deal within 100 days of entering government and indicates that creating a single enforcement body for workers’ rights, including strong powers to inspect workplaces and take action against exploitation, is something it wants “to move quickly” on. The green paper pointed out that with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities losing funding of more than 50 per cent over the past decade, workplaces are currently likely to be proactively inspected only once every 250 years.

Moving towards a simpler framework for employment status, that differentiates between workers and genuinely self-employed people aims to tackle the rise of “bogus self-employment” and employers exploiting the complexity of the UK’s current framework to deny people their legal rights.

And Labour says it is committed to strengthening the rights of working people by empowering workers to organise collectively through trade unions and will simplify the process of union recognition and the law around statutory recognition thresholds. The legal right to appoint trade union safety reps under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 applies to unions recognised for the purposes of collective bargaining.

The TUC has published academic research showing clearly that “union workplaces are safer workplaces”, with injury rates 24 per cent lower in workplaces with a union presence than those without, for example.

Andrea Oates

Andrea Oates is a freelance writer who writes on current affairs from a trade union perspective and specialises in health and safety at work and work-based learning and training.


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