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Review into health & safety underway

23 January 2013

News that Lord Young is to go ahead with a review of health & safety for the Coalition Government has been met with mixed reactions

News that Lord Young is to go ahead with a review of health & safety for the Coalition Government has been met with mixed reactions

David Cameron has confirmed that Lord Young of Graffham is to undertake a Whitehall-wide review of the operation of health and safety laws and the growth of the compensation culture in the UK.

Announcing the appointment, David Cameron urged:“We need a sensible new approach that makes clear these laws are intended to protect people, not overwhelm businesses with red tape: “I'm very pleased that Lord Young has agreed to lead this important review. The rise of the compensation culture over the last ten years is a real concern, as is the way health and safety rules are sometimes applied.”

Commenting on his new role, Lord Young said: “Health and safety regulation is essential in many industries but may well have been applied too generally and have become an unnecessary burden on firms, but also community organisations and public services.”

Speaking on the BBC's breakfast tv show Lord Young talked of the development of a nanny state over the past ten to twelve years. He said: “There is no question, in any dangerous occupation, in any place where people are in danger, health and safety rules will apply. But there are so many parts of life where it is an absolute nonsense. If there were still music halls, it would be a music hall joke.”

Lord Young added that he hopes his review will reintroduce: “An element of common sense and focus the regulation where it is most needed,” adding: “We need a system that is proportionate and not bureaucratic.”

Safety minister Chris Grayling commended the appointment, saying: “It is important that we review health and safety regulation so that while people are protected at work there isn't a burden on business, and people can still use their common sense without fearing they are breaking the law.”

National accident prevention charity RoSPA has also said the review is good news, Tom Mullarkey, chief executive expressed hope that it will: “Get to the bottom of concerns about health and safety once and for all, considering facts as well as people's opinions.

“Rospa believes that there is nothing essentially wrong with the Health and Safety at Work Act, which dates back to 1974 and has proportionality at its heart. The problem is in its application.”

Mullarkey adds: “Good safety is all about good judgment - avoiding the intolerable, ignoring the trivial and, in between, getting the balance right between risk and the cost of precautions."

Chair of the HSE Judith Hackitt has also welcomed the review, commenting that she believes too many people use health and safety as an excuse to hide behind. She said: “Often health and safety is invoked to disguise someone's real motives - concerns over costs or complexity, or an unwillingness to honestly defend an unpopular decision.” In a letter to Lord Young, Hackitt offered the HSE's assistance in gathering evidence for the enquiry stressing that the HSE has always and will continue to champion: “A sensible and proportionate approach to dealing with risks in the workplace - not eliminating them from all aspects of life.”

The TUC however has expressed concern at the remit of the review, general secretary Brendan Barber fears: “This will not be an open and frank review aimed at achieving better regulation. Instead it is an attempt to undermine the already limited protection that workers have by focusing on the needs of business.”

The Union also disputed the need to review the compensation culture in the first place, suggesting: “Successive reports show there is no such thing and claims have been falling over the past ten years.

“Businesses are responsible for a working culture that injures a quarter of a million workers every year and makes a further half a million employees ill. The review should be investigating this instead,” urges Barber.

The Prospect union, which represents HSE staff, argues that while it believes the review is necessary it is important not to confuse petty bureaucracy with vital regulation designed to save lives. It said: "We hope this review will go some way to clarifying the differences between the two and debunk the myth of the 'burden' of health and safety that masks the wider picture. We agree that measures aimed at preventing death and injury at work run the risk of being undermined by authorities, including insurance companies, through inappropriate legal interpretation, excessive application over minor issues, or too much red tape because of a disproportionate fear of liability.”

It has been suggested that key points the review may consider could include an examination of the need for lower risk environments such as offices to follow health and safety regulations and a examination of whether the UK is guilty of “gold plating” some European rules.

Lord Young is expected to present his findings later in the summer.