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January 15, 2010

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Compensation culture linked to rise of gangs, says Tory MP

The number of young people involved in gangs has grown partly as a

result of a claims culture that has limited the opportunities for them

to take part in adventure training and sport.

The assertion is made by Tory MP Julian Brazier in a paper submitted as part of his party’s inquiry into health and safety, which David Cameron announced in December.

The paper argues that concerns about getting sued or prosecuted are the primary obstacle to encouraging volunteers to help organise adventure activities for young people. It also contends that these fears have arisen from poor legal judgements — not urban myths about health and safety — and that a steep rise in insurance costs reflects a change in the attitude of the courts since the mid-1990s.

Mr Brazier blames these factors for “reducing opportunities for young people and adults to experience structured risk-taking, damaging the development of self-reliance, leadership and teamwork, and perversely encouraging the growth of gangs, which move into the vacuum”.

To deal with the perceived pressures on adventure training and sport, Brazier makes two principal recommendations. Firstly, he advocates a ban on negligence claims being brought by people who participate in sport, or adventure training and who sign a disclaimer, unless a higher level of reckless disregard can be proven. He claims that most US states have introduced explicit legislation to this effect to protect their sports.

Secondly, he proposes that the Conservatives “reverse the Government’s grave mistake in subsuming the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority into the HSE”. According to Brazier, the amalgamation means “decisions on criminal prosecutions in sport and adventure training are now handled by an organisation that has the workplace as its main focus”.

IOSH welcomed the MP’s contribution to the debate on the causes of risk and liability aversion, and the need to create a more ‘risk-intelligent’ society. President John Holden said: “We all know that risk is part of life, so we can’t continue to wrap our young people up in cotton wool.”

He continued: “We also know that all of us have to experience situations of risk if we’re to learn how to handle ourselves and be responsible for other people’s safety. Adventure training and sports activities present excellent and enjoyable platforms for young people to learn these lessons, develop risk awareness and confidence, and so get into good life habits.

“Many valuable life skills and benefits can be gained from learning to cope with risks in a managed environment, so it’s important this is encouraged as much as possible.”

Prince Edward, chair of the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, sparked controversy in October last year when he told The Australian newspaper that the scheme was popular with young people because it has a “risk element” and “a sense that you could die doing [it]”.

He went on: “Obviously, we don’t want that to happen. Certainly, that’s not the intention; we give them the skills to go out there and do it safely and constructively. It was just that psychology, about what makes young people tick.”

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