Health and Safety Know-How

This article was first published on the 7th May 2014 in the Bristol Post and can be viewed online here.

The subject of health and safety has a tendency to cause groaning or 'knowing' jokes when mentioned. It is up there with 'political correctness' as a bugbear of certain politicians and sections of the press.

Health and safety is often blamed for promoting a compensation culture or risk-averse society where, for example, children are being stripped of their freedom to get themselves killed on farms, school trips, construction sites etc.

Sorry, that last sentence is totally uncalled for – just designed to stimulate a more rounded discussion on health and safety in society.

Although I am now a defence lawyer, in previous lives I have been an HSE inspector and know from working on both sides of the fence the tragic consequences of things going wrong at work. Therefore, I strongly believe that those employers, organisations and regulators who work hard to improve health and safety deserve a better press.

A newspaper on one page will be decrying the terrible consequences of poor working conditions in the developing world, while on the next page will complain about health and safety 'red tape' in this country. Unfortunately, the Government is not immune from making cheap capital out of this.

It is only in recent years that the figures for deaths in the workplace in the UK have dropped below nearly one per every working day – this does not include those people who are killed while driving at work, and those thousands who die from work-related illnesses.

The economic recovery may reverse this trend because new enterprises will develop in an atmosphere of negativity towards workplace and public safety. I am worried that the message that health and safety is too difficult to achieve will affect the new generation of entrepreneurs. Undoubtedly there is a lot of regulation and guidance in this area, and there are also a lot of 'experts' providing opinion.

However, the essence of the law on health and safety is simple, whether in a nuclear power station or a lawyer's office. Basically, those people who create a risk by work activity have a duty to identify the risk and then control it so far as is reasonably practicable. Once this is recognised we are all on our way to becoming legal experts.

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