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Another year, another health & safety report…

Last October Lord Young of Graffham delivered his report, “Common Sense, Common Safety” to the Government.  It made a host of recommendations for sweeping away bureaucratic health & safety impediments to normal commercial activity and everyday life. 


This week another report has been delivered to Government on a similar topic: “Reclaiming health and safety for all: an independent review of health and safety legislation” by Prof Ragnar E Löfstedt of King’s College London.  The report similarly makes a number of recommendations to ease the burden of health & safety requirements, this time principally those emanating from the EU. 


Lord Young’s recommendations included simplifying risk assessment procedures for low hazard workplaces (eg offices and classrooms) and exempting self-employed people from such requirements altogether.  Prof Löfstedt makes very similar recommendations


Prof Löfstedt also goes further.  He wants clarification of what businesses need to do to comply with safety requirements, so that risk assessments are focused on “real” risks rather than being extended to cover trivial ones, warning that at present the need for risk assessments “has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare for some businesses”.  He recommends an end if possible to strict liability for incidents in the workplace where employers have done all that is reasonably practicable.  The goal is to “enable businesses to reclaim ownership of the management of health and safety and see it as a vital part of their operation rather than an unnecessary and bureaucratic paperwork exercise”.


This is no doubt all very laudable, and many readers of this Blog will agree with the general aims of both reports.  But will anything really change?  Lord Young’s recommendations included adopting Lord Justice Jackson’s report – so he may chalk up a success there, depending on how the current Bill fares in Parliament.  But apart from that, it is difficult to see what practical changes can or will be made that will have any significant impact on the claims we all deal with.  (Think of the damp squib which was s 1 of the Compensation Act 2006.) 


The fact is that since the implementation of the EU’s 1989 Framework Directive with the UK’s 1992 “six pack” of regulations we have sleepwalked into a world of űber-regulation where the employers (private and public) often feel that they start the response to any workplace claim 30-love down.  Something truly radical would be needed to tackle that perception, and as Prof Löfstedt points out, that would almost certainly be unlawful, as it would put the UK in breach of its EU obligations.

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