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March 6, 2012

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PM’s approach to health and safety not helpful, says Prof Lofstedt

The use of the word ‘burden’ to describe health and safety’s impact on business is absolutely not mine, Professor Ragnar Lofstedt told delegates at the opening session of the IOSH 2012 conference this morning (6 March).

The man who was tasked by the Government last year with carrying out a review of the UK health and safety system emphasised that his mandate was “clearly a deregulatory one” but his overall conclusions were that there is no need for a major overhaul of the system and that bad health and safety practice is already a considerable burden on business and society.

The professor deemed Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent branding of health and safety as a monster, and his overall approach to the subject, as “not helpful” but he acknowledged that the PM does agree, at least, that health and safety activity must be risk-based.

The professor provided a quick overview of how the review – which was published last November – was conducted and resulted in a total of 26 recommendations, all of which were accepted by the Government. Of those, he singled out a few on which to elaborate – particularly his recommendation to exempt the self-employed engaged in low-risk work from regulation. On this point more than any other, the professor explained, he was “bombarded” yet the changes he proposed were “nothing radical”.

He said: “It is aimed at the likes of self-employed writers – for example, JK Rowling! – who are engaged in low-risk activities. Sectors like agriculture and construction, as well as SMEs, will continue to be covered. And any bogus self-employed people in construction, for example, will never be exempt.”

The professor was also very keen to emphasise that despite several reports to the contrary, he “never mentioned cuts in regulations of 50 per cent. I said consolidation of 30 per cent! The sheer number of regulations does make life difficult for business, so I looked at ways to reduce the number without reducing the level of protection – hence why the HSE is now looking at streamlining regulations in various sectors.”

With regard to legislation emanating from the EU, the professor said the Government needs to work more closely with Europe, and place greater emphasis on risk. He revealed that the review of existing EU legislation to ensure it is risk and evidence-based would now likely start in 2015 rather than 2014, as originally planned, but he also announced that Conservative MEP Julie Girling is to set up an information committee on risk, due to be launched in September this year.

Professor Lofstedt also called on delegates and stakeholders to help him in lobbying the House of Lords to set up a Select Committee on risk to consider how to engage society in the wider debate on this subject.


He criticised certain sections of the media for their unhelpful reporting of health and safety and called on them to be more responsible and report on the benefits of a positive approach. He was also keen to emphasise that education is key to progress on the issue as a whole. He said: ” We should have health and safety education in schools and universities. Risk communication is so important, even to young schoolchildren. And universities should focus on it, too – we don’t need any more media studies or sports studies graduates!”

You can watch a video of Professor Lofstedt’s speech below:


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