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Breath of fresh air on ‘elf & safety’

09 November 2010

Lord Young’s 65-page report on health and safety Common sense, common safety, published in October, is a breath of fresh air and it is to be hoped it will blow away the crazy impact of health and safety laws on our lives, says Nick Richardson.

Many would say that the ‘health and safety’ hysteria was liberally fuelled by the previous government’s enthusiasm for legislation. From 1997 when they came into office, they passed a staggering 4300 new laws, making a mockery of the principle ‘ignorance of the law is no defence’. Now there are so many laws on the statute books that even the law-makers themselves can’t keep track of them

Lord Young’s report quickly gets to the heart of things. He points to ‘widespread’ abuse of health and safety (H&S) laws and comments: “What is sensible for dangerous occupations has been spread over the rest of life”.

David Cameron has backed the proposed reforms and describes the report as a ‘turning point’. He vowed to put a stop to the senseless rules that get in the way of volunteering, stop adults from helping out with other people’s children and penalise our police and fire services for acts of bravery and to replace these with regulations that would focus where they are most needed; with a new system that is proportionate, not bureaucratic; that treats adults like adults and reinstates some common sense and trust.

 The recommendations

  • The government has accepted all Lord Young’s recommendations, which include:
  • A common sense approach to educational trips, with a single consent form covering all activities a child might undertake.
  • Consultants who carry out workplace safety assessments to be professionally qualified and registered on an online database.
  • An assurance that people will not be held liable for the consequences of well-intentioned voluntary acts on their part.
  • A requirement that council officials who ban events on H&S grounds should put their reasons in writing. A ‘route for redress’ for citizens to challenge official decisions.
  • Simplified risk assessment procedures for low-hazard workplaces such as offices, classrooms and shops.
  • HSE to develop checklists for businesses and voluntary organisations in low risk environments to help them record compliance.
  • Exemption from risk assessments for employers in relation to employees working from home in a low-hazard environment and for self-employed people in low-hazard businesses.
  • Review procedures by which businesses have to report workplace accidents as in many workplaces the risk of accident or injury is low.
  • The HSE should re-examine the operation of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 to determine whether this is the best way to provide an accurate national picture of workplace accidents
  • Insurance companies should stop low-risk businesses having to employ health and safety consultants to carry out full health and safety risk assessments
  • There should be consultation with the insurance industry to ensure that worthwhile activities are not unnecessarily prevented on H&S grounds. Insurance companies should draw up a code of practice on H&S for businesses and the voluntary sector
  • Ensure that EU H&S rules for low-risk businesses are not overly prescriptive. Look to enhance the role for the HSE for large multi-site retail businesses as soon as practicable.
  • Local authority inspectors to be made responsible for both food safety and H&S. Make mandatory local authority participation in the Food Standards Agency’s food hygiene rating scheme, where businesses serving or selling food to the public will be given a rating of between 0-5.
  • Police officers and firefighters should not be at risk of investigation or prosecution under H&S legislation when, in the course of their duties, they have put themselves at risk as a result of committing a heroic act.

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Chris Wills LLB (Hons)
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Chris Wills
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