Lord Young advocates common sense, competence, and compensation crackdown
The Government’s health and safety advisor Lord Young of Graffham, has finally published his highly anticipated review, in which he fulfils promises made in the last few months to deal with ‘the compensation culture’, ‘rogue’ health and safety consultants, and the red-tape ‘burden’.
The 64-page report, entitled Common sense, common safety, was issued this morning and contains 36 recommendations relating to, among others, no-win, no-fee lawyers, health and safety practitioners, insurance firms, schools, local authorities, the HSE, and the emergency services.
In it, the Tory peer states his aim as “to free businesses from the unnecessary bureaucratic burdens and the fear of having to pay out unjustified damages claims and legal fees. Above all, it means applying common sense not just to compensation to everyday decisions once again.”
Prime Minister David Cameron, in his foreword to the review, gives the recommendations it contains his full support, saying: “We’re going to curtail the promotional activities of claims management companies and the compensation culture they help perpetuate. We’re going to end the unnecessary bureaucracy that drains creativity and innovation from our businesses.”
The report contains several recommendations that could, as IOSH has commented, mark a real “turning point” for the health and safety regime and profession.
While the establishment of an accredited register for suitably qualified health and safety consultants is already underway Lord Young also proposes that the current “raft” of health and safety legislation be consolidated into “a single set of accessible regulations”; that the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) be “re-examined” to determine whether another approach is needed; and that the risk-assessment procedure for “low-hazard” workplaces – which he cites as the likes of offices, classrooms and shops – be simplified.
On that last point, the HSE has today (Friday) announced a new online risk assessment that it says will help cut the amount of time it takes to weigh up hazards in offices to just 20 minutes. It will, said the Executive, “help avoid unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy for office-based businesses”.
HSE chair Judith Hackitt commented: “Complying with the law in a low-risk business can be done with common sense by anyone”.
Ms Hackitt hailed Lord Young’s report as “an important milestone on the road to recovery for the reputation of real health and safety” and a “tremendous opportunity to refocus health and safety on what it is really about – managing workplace risks”. She also promised that the HSE would be “actively pursuing those recommendations within our remit”.
Steve Pointer, head of health and safety policy at the EEF, welcomed an overhaul of RIDDOR – “a law that most don’t comply with, and which the HSE doesn’t enforce” – but consolidating the body of health and safety legislation, he said, would be “a massive job”.
IOSH said it is too early to comment on Lord Young’s specific recommendations in detail but the Institution broadly welcomed the report, particularly its aims to clamp down on “absurd” applications of health and safety legislation, and to restore confidence in the profession.
Said chief executive, Rob Strange: “We are sick and tired of hearing of misinterpretations of health and safety laws that end in the cancellation of perfectly safe activities. Lord Young is absolutely right: the standing of health and safety has been lowered by ridiculous applications of the rules. This has to end.”
Commenting specifically on the proposal to merge food and health and safety inspections, president of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, Stephen Battersby, said: “This is already the norm in many local authorities. Environmental health practitioners are uniquely qualified in both food safety and health and safety.”
Although the review does largely focus on health and safety, the so-called compensation culture is arguably the report’s main target. Despite an acknowledgement that most of the stakeholders consulted as part of the review do not believe one exists, Lord Young feels that this situation, driven by litigation, “is at the heart of the problems that so beset health and safety today”.
Consequently, he recommends a number of measures, including restricting the operation of referral agencies and personal-injury lawyers, controlling the volume and type of advertising they can engage in, and introducing a simplified claims procedure.
The Consumer Justice Alliance, which was formed to highlight the impact that Lord Young’s proposals will have on injured victims, agreed that unnecessary costs in the legal system need to be tackled but emphasised: “There are thousands of people across this country who have rebuilt their lives thanks to hard-won compensation, so let’s make changes to the system, not dismantle it altogether.”
The Tory peer also has the insurance industry in his sights, criticising it for its part in the “over-interpretation” of health and safety legislation by, for example, insisting that businesses in low-hazard environments employ health and safety consultants to carry out full risk assessments. He recommends that this practice should cease, and that there should be consultation with the insurance industry to ensure that “worthwhile” activities are not curtailed on health and safety grounds.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) supported the recommendations, saying that, by implementing them, it will be possible to “create a culture of responsible risk-taking by individuals and businesses, backed by proportionate health and safety regulation, and underpinned by insurance.” The ABI also welcomed the crackdown on irresponsible claims firms, emphasising the importance now of “ensuring a better deal for people who suffer injury where someone else is negligent”.
The TUC, however, expressed its “grave disappointment” with the report, lamenting the fact that it “doesn’t contain a single proposal that will reduce the high levels of workplace death, injuries and illness”.
Added general secretary, Brendan Barber: “Instead of looking for ways of preventing people being killed an injured, the report uncritically accepts the myths and preconceptions surrounding health and safety, and focuses on dealing with a compensation culture, which the Government accepts does not exist.”
Barber also criticised the recommendations to exempt low-risk workplaces from robust risk assessment, saying: “Health and safety is not a throwback to a previous century, or an issue that only affects heavy industry. It is just as much an issue for offices and shops – workplaces that Lord Young dismisses as low risk, despite the evidence of high levels of work-related ill health in these sectors.”
The full report can be downloaded from the Cabinet Office website at: www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/
To see SHP editor Tina Weadick’s view on the report click here.
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