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November 28, 2011

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Stakeholders react to ‘curate’s egg’ Löfstedt review

Reaction the Government’s latest review of health and safety has been generally positive, with most commentators pleased at Professor Löfstedt’s conclusion that the current health and safety landscape is broadly fit for purpose and his consequent decision to refrain from applying the shears to the statute book.

The HSE welcomed the review, calling it “insightful” and “good for workers and employers”.

Reacting to the publication of Reclaiming Health and Safety for All, chair of the Executive, Judith Hackitt, said: “We must have a system of health and safety which enables employers to make sensible and proportionate decisions about managing genuine workplace risks.

“Simplifying and streamlining the stock of regulations, focusing enforcement on higher-risk businesses, clarifying requirements, and rebalancing the civil litigation system – these are all practical, positive steps.”

She concluded: “We welcome these reforms because they are good for workers and employers but also for the significant contribution they will make to restoring the rightful reputation of real health and safety.”

IOSH welcomed the report overall and said it looks forward to “continuing to play a key part in the successful implementation of the changes”. In particular, it applauded the suggestion to “further centralise the strategy for enforcement and improve training to address this” and praised the moves to help employers understand their obligations through simplifying approved codes of practice.

The TUC was pleased that the Professor found that the UK’s health and safety laws are “broadly right” but overall felt that the review was “a missed opportunity” to address injury and ill health in the workplace.

Said general secretary, Brendan Barber: “Unfortunately, like Lord Young, Prof Löfstedt was only asked to look at the ‘burden’ on business, not the burden that the failings in the current system have placed on the two million people whose health has been made worse because of their work. Nor has it considered the more than 20,000 people whose lives are cut short every year as a result of a preventable work-related injury or illness.

“Because of this, not one life will be saved as a result, and not one injury or illness prevented.”

The TUC also expressed serious concerns over the exemption of some self-employed workers from health and safety laws.

Employers’ body the EEF said the review’s findings backed its view that “there is little, if any, need for future substantial domestic legislation”. The organisation’s head of health and safety, Terry Woolmer, further commented: “UK government must now grasp the nettle at European level and pursue a culture that ensure any proposed legislation is risk and evidence-based.”

David Kidney, head of policy at the CIEH, which represents local-authority enforcement officers, said that while he understood business and the Government’s desire for consistency in enforcement, localism means what it says.

He explained: “Local inspectors – be they in food, health and safety, or housing safety – do know their own patch. You must have horses for courses – and we are the horse for that local course. Therefore we should resist moves to have the HSE take over our local regulatory work.”

Pressure group FACK (Families Against Corporate Killers) praised the Professor’s view that there is no need to radically alter current legislation, and that work-related injury and ill health is a considerable burden on business and society, but it lambasted the Government’s “ill-informed misuse” of his recommendations.

Founder member of the group, Linda Whelan, said: “Government ministers are keen only to protect business from mostly imaginary burdens, while heaping more burdens on to workers and their families, and spinning a fact-free line for the press.”

She continued: “We feel the lack of any recommendations to improve health and safety, support workers and trades-union safety reps, and the proposals to exempt self-employed workers from health and safety law are dangerous.”

The Forum for Private Business was delighted with what it called “the health and safety bonfire” lit by Prof Löfstedt, saying it includes a “wider acknowlegement for the needs of health and safety to be a shared burden with staff as well as employers”.

The small-business body’s senior policy advisor, Alex Jackman, continued: “Civil action against businesses is a huge issue for our members, and many over-compensate where health and safety is concerned. Not only does this unduly raise the cost of compliance – disproportionately so for the smallest businesses – but it also raises the expectations of employees should personal injury unfortunately befall them.

“We welcome moves to redress the imbalance we currently have where employers can be successfully prosecuted despite having taken all reasonable steps to protect their employees.”

Mr Jackman concluded: “Complying with health and safety regulations has become a serious burden for business and a major barrier to growth.”

On the issue of employers’ liability, health and safety law expert Kevin Bridges said: “Many employers are driven not by principles of good risk management but by the fear of being sued. Negligence is based on reasonableness but as long as an employer can be liable in damages for a breach of the Regulations, even when the risk is not reasonably foreseeable, or where they had acted reasonably, then the fundamental objective of achieving a proportionate and balanced approach to managing occupational health and safety will be undermined.

“Separating criminal from civil liability and ensuring that an employer’s duties are always based on the taking of sensible and reasonable precautions is where the HSE and the Government should concentrate their efforts.”

Legal firm Eversheds believes achieving reform in the name of health and safety will be “tough”. Commenting on the review, partner David Young said: “What is promising is the suggestion of a new channel through which duty-holders can challenge decisions, and the greater influence of the HSE over local authorities.

“What is less promising is that promised abolition of swathes of regulations that will detract from the core problem that we already knew existed – it’s the interpretation, not the regulations. We cannot blame Europe for that.”

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12 years ago

Every year in the UK up to 150,000 people lose their lives when first aid could have given them the chance to live, yet we have one of the lowest levels of training in Europe. Similarly, deaths in the workplace increased last year after a record-low the previous year. While it makes sense to put responsibility back in the hands of employees, the only sensible way to do this is to equip them with the skills and knowledge to act in an emergency situation.

12 years ago

While broadly supporting this report, Health and Safety Legislation is not the real issue, it is in it’s application and there are a lot of people giving health and safty advice who have an excellent knowledge of the legislation but that knowledge is inversly proportional to their understanding of ‘reasonably practicable’ and ‘suitable and sufficient’, and it is this that has the biggest impact on SME’s and the self-employed.