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Cuts in Funding for UK HSE Agency Risks Lives, Says Union

The British government's plans to cut the budget of the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) budget will have dire consequences for workers, says the trade union Amicus.

Amicus claims safety will be compromised by the government's HSE funding cuts, which will result in fewer health and safety inspectors and less frequent workplace inspections.

News of the cuts has come as the number of reported workplace accidents is on the rise.

"Employers whose negligent health and safety practices lead to the death and injury of their workers are criminals in the same way that muggers and murderers are," said Derek Simpson, general secretary of Amicus. "If the government tried to reduce police numbers there would be justifiable public outrage and the reaction should be the same when it comes to compromising workplace safety by reducing the number of health and safety inspectors."

The proposed increase of £10 million (US $15.89 million) over the next three years means a cut in real inflationary terms and will result in the HSE having less money in 2005/6 than in 2003/4. An estimated £35 million extra would be required over that period to cover the necessary number of Health and Safety workplace inspectors. The HSE has already decreased its level of inspections by 41 percent in order to compensate for an increase in the level of investigations into reported injuries.

A leaked HSE document revealed that the HSE has suspended recruitment and is not replacing vacant posts. The agency also plans to use administrative staff to perform job functions normally handled by qualified inspectors to make up the shortfall.

Last year, 226 people were killed at work in the UK and an estimated 10,000 people died from occupational illnesses.

Amicus is campaigning for a new law of corporate killing, punishable by imprisonment of directors or massive fines for companies found guilty of causing death, disease or injury to their employees or members of the public.

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