Death Toll Now Reach 54
The death toll from last week’s terrible supermarket collapse in Latvia has now reached 54 people. The incident has scandalised a nation. There has been widespread speculation that those guilty would escape prosecution and only independent foreign engineers could be trusted to report on the cause of the disaster. As predicted by some commentators, including yours truly, the government initially resorted to harsh words promising retribution to those it found responsible and launched a criminal inquiry. The president of Latvia Andris Bervins ramped up the use of sensationalist language and called the disaster “murder”.
However, in a strange twist the accident has caused the fall of the country’s government. Latvian prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis resigned, possibly feeling that he is, at least in part, responsible for the tragedy. He is largely credited with saving the Latvian economy from bankruptcy. However, his harsh cuts and economic reforms also resulted in the abolition of a state construction authority which, some experts have suggested, may have played a part by weakening the inspection and enforcement regime which could have identified the flaws in the building design. Certainly it would appear that lax regulation, limited enforcement and cost cutting are some of the root causes to be investigated.
Given a similar austerity drive here in the UK, and significant cuts being made to both local authorities and the HSE, is there is a chance that we might see a similar disaster here? In 2015 the HSE’s funding will be reduced by 35% and staff levels will be lower than in 1994 with no guarantees on further job losses. Almost all proactive enforcement inspections will be stopped, reducing to 15,000 a year compared to over 60,000 a decade ago. Since the economic crisis of 2008 we have seen a reduction in accidents and deaths, but with the UK economy now appearing to be growing again, how long will it be until we see that positive trend reversed? Even if there is no major disaster, will we see an increase in deaths and serious injuries? The Latvian prime minister has blood on his hands. Will the UK coalition government make the same mistake?