Report criticises ‘burdensome’ health and safety culture

An educational think-tank has launched an attack on Britain’s health and safety culture, arguing the current regime encourages over-compliance, red tape, fear and caution.

The report by Policy Exchange has argued that health and safety has become a “ritual excuse not to do anything”. It argued there needed to be much greater clarity around legal requirements such as being “reasonably practical”, and that the Health and Safety Executive could be much more precise about when a risk assessment needed to be made or how extensive it needed to be.

“The health and safety culture means that the health and safety regime, as experienced on the ground by businesses, charities and the public sector, can be extremely burdensome,” it suggested. While no one wished “to go back to the days when manual workers carried out dangerous jobs without proper training and equipment, machines lacked guards and office workers spent every day in rooms filled with cigarette smoke”, there was scope to align the health and safety regime more closely with proportionality, common sense and fewer burdens, it argued.

It called for a minimum standard of qualification for health and safety consultants and for consideration to be given as to whether certain health and safety requirements, such as risk assessments, could be lifted from micro-enterprises and low-risk office-based businesses. It also urged regulation to be stripped back, particularly for the self-employed, and a debate on what we really mean by risk, and whether the goal is to eliminate it, or simply to manage it effectively.

“At some point, the marginal cost of risk-mitigation will exceed the marginal benefit of fewer injuries,” it argued. “Much as it will take a brave politician to advocate a reduction in regulation following an accident, it may be important to make explicit where health and safety lies in the order of priorities.”

But the report has been heavily criticised by the Institution for Occupational Safety and Health, which said the report misunderstood much of the UK’s existing health and safety regulatory framework and was marred by “conceptual weaknesses”.

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