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Creating a monster

23 January 2013

When the Löfstedt report was published at the end of November 2011 there was a general consensus that its conclusions were sensible.

When the Löfstedt report was published at the end of November 2011 there was a general consensus that its conclusions were sensible. The review identifies that the perceived problem surrounding health & safety lies less with health and safety regulation and more with the way it is interpreted and applied. The report makes a case for rationalising and clarifying existing regulations, suggests that the UK could be more effective in influencing European policy, and acknowledges the need to tackle a rise in civil litigation cases. But all in all it concludes that proportionate risk management makes good business sense. So it was with a collective groan that those in health and safety listened to David Cameron's speech to an audience of small businesses in Maidenhead, Berkshire in January in which he spoke of the need to “cut back the health and safety monster.”

It wasn't that what he was suggesting was outrageous, he spoke, for example of moves to cap lawyers fees in personal injury cases to tackle what he described as “the culture of fear”, but it was the fact that he was still blithely labelling the problem as one of health & safety.

As Jim Wilkes of Zurich insurance explains in the first of a series of interviews with the insurance industry on page 10, despite the recent focus on health & safety and the sensible conclusions of the Löfstedt report: “many people are still failing to make the distinction between the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA) which is criminal law aimed at protecting employees and others affected by work activities, and civil law, which deals with disputes between individuals and organisations, for example an injury claim.” Adding: “Unfortunately parts of the media (and it seems some politicians) have mixed up health & safety with the compensation culture and are portraying them as one and the same thing.” Few will argue that there isn't a case for addressing the rise in civil litigation cases but it should be possible to do so without further compromising the reputation of health and safety.

The idea of presenting health & safety as a monster is therefore ludicrous and irresponsible and doesn't tally with any of the sensible research and discussion which has taken place in recent months. Cameron's fabrication of a health & safety monster is also short sighted, because while there was widespread support for the Löfstedt report and therefore the Government's approach when the report was first published, if Cameron continues with this rhetoric he may well find, as Frankenstein did, that this monster turns against him.

Georgina Bisby - Editor

Health & Safety Matters