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June 19, 2008

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Health and safety is not disproportionate, says research

It’s not health and safety managers that are banning things left, right and centre, it’s just a perception — so says a report published by the HSE this week.

According to Norwich Union Risk Services, the study, carried out by consultants Greenstreet Berman, looked at 100 media reports of “disproportionate” health and safety decision-making, and whether these were a true reflection of the situation in UK workplaces.

Using a range of examples of “excessive” decisions and restrictions, the researchers found that the vast majority of workplaces did not “ban” activities or impose over-the-top sanctions, but instead applied “reasonable requirements” to control health and safety.

Most of the media stories came from the education sector, or from activities regulated or run by local authorities. Typically they involved members of the public being stopped from carrying out “everyday” activities, such as playing conkers or using bouncy castles, or excessive decisions, such as cutting down trees to avoid the risk of fallen fruit causing slips!

While such stories did not reflect the approach to health and safety taken by most UK businesses and other organisations – including most local authorities – it was clear they were having an influence on people’s perceptions of health and safety, according to the report.

It revealed that three times as many people believed Britain had a problem with “disproportionate health and safety” than those who thought their own place of work had a problem.

At the same time, the research did uncover a “significant minority” of workplaces making disproportionate health and safety decisions.

The report concluded that in some cases, clarity on what was meant by “sensible safety” was needed, and that this should be targeted at people with “relatively little health and safety experience”.

The full research report – ‘Evaluation of disproportionate decisions on risk assessment and management’ – is available on the HSE website by clicking the link below.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrhtm/rr536.htm

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