Independent experts to expose misuse of health and safety
Employment minister Chris Grayling has hailed the launch of a challenge panel that will scrutinise ‘risk-averse’ or erroneous decisions by non-regulators as another vehicle that will bring “common sense” back to health and safety.
Operational from today (11 April), the Myth Busters Challenge Panel has been set up by the HSE to look into complaints regarding the advice given by non-regulators and seek to publicise whether this guidance reflects what the law actually requires.
The move is a direct response to concerns that the reputation of health and safety is being tarnished by ‘jobsworths’ and cynics keen to prevent essentially safe activities going ahead. The panel will separate legitimate decisions that protect people from real risks from those that don’t have a basis in health and safety law. This will allow decisions by the likes of insurance companies, health and safety consultants and employers to be contested.
As we reported last month, the panel will be chaired by HSE chair Judith Hackitt, with HSE board member Robin Dahlberg acting as her understudy. A pool of 11 other independent specialists will also sit on the panel, having been hand-picked for their experience across a variety of issues – including outdoor pursuits, public safety, and insurance – as well as wide range of industries.
When a complaint is received, a small number of panel members will be convened based on their expertise in the specific area concerned. They will then provide opinions for the panel chair, who will take the final decision. The HSE also intends to publicise its findings on its website.
Although the panel’s role is advisory, the HSE hopes that the adverse publicity arising from having an authoritative, independent panel find against a decision-maker will encourage them to reverse bad decisions, or at least be clearer about the reasons behind them, so that health and safety is not unjustly blamed.
Commenting on the launch, Ms Hackitt said: “Over the years we’ve seen health and safety invoked – wrongly – in defence of some pretty absurd decisions.
“When people hear about children being ordered to wear goggles to play conkers, or the dangers of candy floss on a stick, it undermines public confidence in the true task of health and safety, which is to manage serious risks to life and limb in Britain’s workplaces.
“The launch of the Myth Busters Challenge Panel will add an important new voice for common sense. I am determined that the panel will help to put the spotlight on the worst health and safety myths and ensure that people give an honest account for their decisions.”
Echoing the HSE chair’s comments, Employment minister Chris Grayling said: “Common sense is the key to successful health and safety. The Myth Busters Challenge Panel will advise people where they think local authorities, insurance companies, or schools have got it wrong.”
The use of the panel to contest consultants’ advice could raise implications for their inclusion on the consultants register, OSHCR. Asked what might happen if the panel receives a number of complaints about an individual consultant, which the panel concludes are excessive or inaccurate, an HSE spokesperson told SHP that the consultant’s registration on OSHCR would be a matter for the professional body concerned. He added, however, that in such cases it would not “sit on that information” and would “share it as appropriate”.
Welcoming the establishment of the panel, IOSH head of policy and public affairs Richard Jones said: “We are supportive of this development. Like the HSE, for years we’ve been trying to ‘kill’ those myths, so having a mechanism that provides a challenge to people who make these strange decisions is very much something we are in favour of.”
The Association of British Insurers (ABI), whose director of general insurance, Nick Starling, is one of the panel members, also applauded the move. A spokesperson said: “We see it as a useful exercise to dispel some of the health and safety myths out there and provide clear guidance for organisations, which might be confused about what’s expected of them.”
To coincide with the Panel’s launch, the HSE has republished its ‘top ten’ worst health and safety myths – exactly the type of decisions the panel aims to challenge. Complaints for the panel can be sent via an online form on the HSE’s website.
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