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Ups and downs
23 January 2013
It's been a volatile few months. While provisional figures have revealed that accidents in the workplace have gone up, (full story page 6), HSE Chair, Judith Hackitt's chances of getting Wimbledon tickets in the future have most probably gone down.
An onslaught of tennis based puns in the press ensued and the story died down, but among this commentary was a particularly noteworthy blog in The Telegraph from Lord Norman Tebbit entitled: â€œDodgy lawyers are using health and safety regulations to blackmail Britain's employers," in which he congratulated Judith Hackitt for targeting officials and employers wrongly using health and safety considerations to stop everyday activities and suggested that employers are effectively trapped by dodgy lawyers and red tape.
Tebbit said: "Since the ending of the prohibition of lawyers advertising for business - or taking a financial interest in the outcome of legal proceedings in which they are involved - there has been a huge growth in what are little short of blackmailing tactics, especially against schools and private and public sector employers, particularly in local government. â€œLawyers with a financial interest threaten legal action for compensation for injury, often involving an alleged breach of â€œelf'n'safetyâ€ regulations. The authority or employer has no wish to be dragged at great expense through the courts or to attract criticism. Generally, they are insured and insurance companies are reluctant to risk an adverse judicial finding which might open the floodgates to many more claims, so they may well advise an out of court settlement.
After all, it is no skin off the insurer's nose, as he will increase the premiums for the next year and be able to tell his shareholders that turnover and profits are increasing.â€ Tebbit continues:â€œNot only have insurers and the legal profession done well out of all this. A new industry has sprung up. There are now companies making a good living pimping for lawyers. They not only advertise for â€œvictimsâ€, they cold call to find them, and sell their names on to their clients' legal practices.â€
The day after reading this I heard an account which made Tebbit's comments really ring true and suggests just how deep this problem runs. It was of a factory owner who had been plagued by a mobile "no win, no fee," unit which had set itself up outside his premises to entice employees to make claims - offering a menu of settlements for different injury types.
To tackle this problem Tebbit's suggestion is that Laywers should again be prohibited from advertising for business or taking a financial interest in the outcome of a case in which they are involved and that legislation should provide that in any proceedings it should be a good defence to show that the claimant did not take reasonable steps to ensure his own safety.
Frankly, unless this happens you can't help but wonder whether all other efforts to streamline red tape and consolidate health and safety regulations will be fruitless.