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Taking a fresh look at health & safety
23 January 2013
It has taken a straight talking Swede to shine a light on the UK's peculiar fixation with health & safety to identify how the nation can move forward. Following the long awaited publication of Professor LÃ¶fstedt's review into health & safety and the Government's acceptance of its recommendations (full story page 5), in an interview on Radio 4, LÃ¶fstedt summarised the health & safety debate in the UK as â€œamplified and heatedâ€.
Risk management expert LÃ¶fstedt, who was born in Sweden and spent 20 years living in the US, said his impression of the discussion of health & safety in the UK is that it has become â€œvulgarised and no longer focused on the real issuesâ€. In the report Reclaiming health & safety for all: An independent review of health & safety, LÃ¶fstedt made 26 recommendations and suggested over the next three years health & safety regulation should be reduced by half. Such a seemingly radical shake up of regulations was likely designed to grab headlines but in many ways that was what it needed to do in order to reposition the role of health & safety in the minds of the nation. Once the detail of the proposed changes are examined many of them are obvious and sensible.
For example at the moment there are 6 petroleum regulations which LÃ¶fstedt suggests could be reduced to one. LÃ¶fstedt has also recommended the removal of legislation which is either, no longer relevant or is now covered by large pieces of legislation. An example is The Celluloid and Cinematograph Film Act 1922 which is to be abolished.
The recommendation that employers will not be held responsible when they have done all they can to manage a risk was particularly well received. A common complaint from employers has been that they could be sued for failing to issue employees with formal health & safety training for every day scenarios. One incident considered by the review, was that of a company being sued by a worker injured opening a gate because the employee had not been given formal training in gate-opening. LÃ¶fstedt's review suggests there must be a greater emphasis on personal responsibility.
Another much praised element of the review was its emphasis on the need to stimulate debate about risk in society to ensure that everyone has a much better understanding of risk and its management.
Understandably there are concerns about some of the proposals, IOSH has questioned how the scale and speed of the reforms can be achieved without compromising safety and the TUC highlighted the report's absence of any discussion as to how the UK's health & safety record could be improved.
But equally there are opportunities, one of the most significant being to change the UK's perception of health and safety for the better. LÃ¶fstedt's review into health & safety set out to reduce the burden of health & safety regulation on the UK, what it offers is a fresh start for, â€œthe UK to no longer see health & safety as a burdenâ€. LÃ¶fstedt concluded in his radio interview that the responsibility to deliver this lies with everyone including academia, the Government and industry and that from now on we must be being very careful in the language that we use to discuss health & safety so that its true value is brought to the fore.
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