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The riots across England last week have prompted the prime minister to put the ‘broken society’ back at the top of his agenda – with health and safety highlighted as one of the key reasons why rioters and looters felt able to act “without common sense”.
Speaking at a youth centre in his Oxfordshire constituency this morning (15 August) David Cameron set out the priority areas that he believes need to be tackled to restore responsibility “right across society”.
Referring to the “sickening acts”, “twisted moral code”, and “irresponsibility and selfishness” displayed on the streets last week Mr Cameron announced that the Government is to review its work in root-cause areas such as schools, welfare, families – and health and safety.
He said: “[There is] an obsession with health and safety that has eroded people’s willingness to act according to common sense. As we urgently review the work we are doing on the broken society, judging whether it’s ambitious enough, I want to make it clear that there will be no holds barred – and that most definitely includes the health and safety culture.”
A spokesperson for the prime minister told SHP that Mr Cameron is not blaming health and safety for the riots “per se” but that it is one of a raft of issues emerging in society at the moment that are contributing to a lack of people taking responsibility for their actions.
He said: “One of those issues is the way in which the health and safety culture has developed into a catch-all excuse.”
Indeed, in a departure from previous orations on the subject – in which he lambasted “excessive” health and safety regulation and the “burden” it creates – Mr Cameron did acknowledge that it is misinterpretation and misuse of the rules that are the real problem.
He said: “Regulations have often been twisted out of all recognition into a culture where the words ‘health and safety’ are lazily trotted out to justify all sorts of actions and regulations that damage our social fabric.”
Asked how all of this might affect the current review of health and safety being carried out by Prof Ragnar Löfstedt – and whether his findings may be rejected if they are not, as the prime minster said today, “big enough and bold enough to deliver the change that I feel this country now wants to see” – the Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Löfstedt review is an incredibly important part of the health and safety element of all this.
“The message to him [Prof Löfstedt] is: don’t be shy – come away with strong, positive ideas to fundamentally move on from the point of the events last week. Don’t be afraid to come back with radical suggestions and solutions.”
Commenting on the speech, the head of policy and public affairs at IOSH, Richard Jones, said: “We are pleased that the prime minister recognises that health and safety matters, and that it is often misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the law, rather than the law itself, that causes the problems.€