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H&S review largely welcomed

17 June 2010

The Prime Minister has appointed Lord Young as his adviser on H&S law and practice, and to undertake a Whitehall-wide review of H&S legislation and the compensation culture.

Commenting on the review, Judith Hackett, the Chair of the HSE said, “Too many people use health and safety as an excuse to hide behind.”
In her letter Lord Young of Graffham, Judith Hackitt wrote: "The terms of reference of your review extend beyond HSE's remit, which is concerned with addressing real risks and preventing death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work related activities. However, we in HSE have been saying for some time that health and safety is being used by too many as a convenient excuse to hide behind. We welcome your review and stand ready to make available to you whatever information or insight we can."
Sue Killen, CEO of St John Ambulance says: “The right approach to health and safety saves lives – in 2008/9 we saw a 22 percent decrease in the number of people who die at work compared to the previous five years’ average figures.  We believe that it is misinterpretation of health and safety guidance that causes problems and we welcome a review to ensure sensible and proper execution. We’d be concerned if workplaces like offices had their guidance reduced. Our research has shown that 45 percent of office incidents requiring a first aider were serious enough to involve resuscitation compared to 21 percent of incidents on a building site, which is traditionally seen as more high risk.  Good health and safety management is part of effective management. All workplaces need to put measures in place to protect their staff and customers, as we know that trained first aiders are the difference between a life lost and a life saved.”
Tom Mullarkey, chief executive of RoSPA, said: “We welcome this review and hope it will get to the bottom of concerns about health and safety once and for all, considering facts as well as people’s opinions. RoSPA believes that there is nothing essentially wrong with the Health and Safety at Work Act, which dates back to 1974 and has proportionality at its heart. The problem is in its application. Good safety is all about good judgement - avoiding the intolerable, ignoring the trivial and, in between, getting the balance right between risk and the cost of precautions. In the workplace, 'health and safety culture' is a good thing, saving lives, preventing injuries and helping to cut costs and promote efficiency.
“In practice, however, many people are getting the balance wrong. Some are going too far (although many stories about over-the-top safety turn out on examination to be myths). In many other cases, people are still being hurt in easily preventable accidents because not enough is being done to ensure safety. In general, the latter is still a bigger problem than the former in our view. Let’s not forget that accidents are the principal cause of death among under-35s and that the number of people dying in accidents is going up – the figure currently stands at around 13,500 accidental deaths each year in the UK. There is no room for complacency. RoSPA has previously called for a permanent body to investigate and take action on disproportionate health and safety issues, and we welcome this review as an important first step. The problem of getting safety right is one that needs to be solved through education not more legislation. Good research evidence rather than anecdotage is needed to establish the extent of problems in this field and to help identify possible solutions. As ever, RoSPA stands ready and willing to help.”
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'This will not be an open and frank review aimed at achieving better regulation. Instead it is an attempt to undermine the already limited protection that workers have by focusing on the needs of business. We are also surprised the Government is addressing the 'compensation culture' again as successive reports show there is no such thing and claims have been falling over the past ten years. Businesses are responsible for a working culture that injures a quarter of a million workers every year and makes a further half a million employees ill. The review should by investigating this instead. Rather than focusing solely on the 'needs of business', the Government should protect workers by increasing inspections and enforcement action against employers who put their staff at risk by ignoring existing laws, as well as introducing a legal duty on directors to protect their workers.'

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