Health and safety is being used by too many people as a convenient excuse to hide behind, and it is often invoked to disguise concerns over costs or complexity, an unwillingness to defend an unpopular decision or simple laziness, according to Judith Hackitt, Chair of the UK Health and Safety Executive.
Commenting on the recent Lord Young report into health and safety in the UK, Hackitt said it was important to champion a sensible and proportionate approach to dealing with serious risks in the workplace, rather than eliminating every minor risk from everyday life.
Anything that is going to make a difference and a distinction between health and safety that focuses on “real risks” and “much of the rubbish that’s done in our name can only be good news as far as I’m concerned”, she said of the Lord Young review.
Hackitt also commented on the rise of the compensation culture, and said it was important to recognise that there are people who will make “spurious” claims to see what they can get.
“It’s part of getting people to recognise that they have some responsibility for themselves and so that I think is important,” she said.
Lord Young of Graffham, a former UK Government minister, led a Whitehall-wide review of health and safety law and practice at the request of UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
His report recommended that tighter controls should be imposed on “no win-no fee” lawyers seeking compensation on behalf of clients from employers and that there should be a clampdown on “absurd” applications of health and safety legislation.
The report, Common Sense, Common Safety, said that “the standing of health and safety in the eyes of the public has never been lower, and there is a growing fear among business owners of having to pay out for even the most unreasonable claims”.
As such, it advocated the introduction of a simplified claims procedure for personal injury claims on a fixed costs basis, and restricting the operation of referral agencies and personal injury lawyers and control the volume and type of advertising.
Rob Strange, chief executive of the UK’s Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, broadly welcomed Lord Young’s recommendations.
“We think this review could see a turning point for health and safety in the UK by turning the focus away from daft decisions about conker competitions and hanging baskets and back onto saving people’s lives in genuinely hazardous areas of work and public life,” he said.