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January 20, 2012

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HSE announces another challenge panel to help rebut myths

The HSE is inviting the public to inform it about absurd claims, or decisions made by non-regulators that bring health and safety into disrepute, so that a new dedicated challenge panel can quickly disprove them.
Coming hot on the heels of the ‘Independent Regulatory Challenge Panel’, which will enable businesses to contest inaccurate, or over-the-top advice from HSE and Local Authority inspectors, this second panel will give the regulator the opportunity to knock down silly health and safety stories, or decisions, and gain greater publicity when doing so. It is unclear at the moment whether the panel would have any powers to reverse the decisions, or actions of those that are successfully challenged, as the terms of reference for the panel are still at the planning stage.
The creation of the panel was revealed by the Executive’s chair Judith Hackitt while giving evidence earlier this month to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee, as part of its inquiry into health and safety in Scotland. Asked if the watchdog is proactive at dispelling myths, she told the MPs: “The second challenge panel, which will be up and running very soon, is being put in place for precisely that reason, so that people can identify silly stories of a non-regulatory nature and for us very quickly to rebut them and make that a very public process.”
An HSE spokesperson also confirmed to SHP: “A second panel – to be set up later this year – will be available for those who wish to challenge claims made about health and safety requirements by non-regulators. This panel will be chaired by the HSE chair.”
Employment minister Chris Grayling MP, who was also giving evidence to the committee, along with the HSE’s director for Scotland, Paul Stollard, added: “Often, health and safety is used as an excuse for a lazy decision. If something is a bit of a hassle, it is very easy to say that you cannot do it for health and safety reasons. Poor judgment or laziness, often by middle-ranking officials or managers in companies, leads to some of the daft stories we hear.
“We make no apologies for naming and shaming some of the worst offenders, because the message we want to get out is that, more often than not, these things are not based on health and safety law, so don’t take them as gospel.”
When questioned on the possibility that the Government might itself be one of the culprits in perpetuating health and safety myths “to justify removing regulation that should be there to protect workers”, he replied: “We do not have to try. I open the papers each morning and find yet another story about something that brings health and safety into disrepute.
The truth is that, first, we do not want the concept of health and safety having its reputation destroyed by silly stories. . . But we also want regulation – this does not apply just to health and safety but the way this country regulates – that is simple, straightforward, understandable and does not mean that, for small businesses, which can often mean one or two people, form-filling involves more paperwork on a Sunday night.”
Defending David Cameron’s recent pledge to “kill off the health and safety culture for good”, Mr Grayling said the prime minister was referring to the mythology that has built up around health and safety, rather than its core purpose. He concluded: “We hope we end up with a sensible regime, [so that] people can see and understand what it is there for, it commands people’s confidence, where the tag ‘health and safety’ is not used for trivial excuses, and where health and safety does what it is really about.”
At an earlier evidence session for the committee’s inquiry, Professor Ragnar Löfstedt described the “health and safety monster” quote as “unfortunate”. The TUC’s Sarah Veale, a member of Professor Löfsetdt’s review advisory panel, was less conciliatory, describing the comments as “very unhelpful”, and lamenting the fact that before work on the review’s recommendations has even started, “the prime minister has jumped the gun by talking about health and safety”.

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