Government renews offensive against health and safety red tape

The Government launched a major initiative in January to tackle what it termed the UK’s “compensation culture” and to free small and medium-sized enterprises “from the stranglehold of health and safety red tape”.

Prime Minister David Cameron said that the Government would extend the current scheme that caps the amount lawyers can earn from small-value personal injury claims and reduce overall costs in cases funded by “no win no fee” deals.

This, he argued, would help to bring down costs “and deter the speculative health and safety claims made against good businesses that would appear not to have done anything wrong”.

There would be an overhaul of health and safety laws, including changing the strict liability for civil claims so that businesses would no longer automatically be at fault if something goes wrong.

The move followed commitments made in December 2011 in response to the government-commissioned Löfstedt review into health and safety, which recommended the simplification of health and safety guidance for small businesses by this summer, as well as the establishment of a new “challenge panel” to allow businesses to get the decisions of health and safety inspectors overturned immediately if they have got it wrong.

Cameron described excessive health and safety as “an albatross around the neck of British businesses” and pledged to make 2012 not just the year of the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee, but also “the year we get a lot of this pointless time-wasting out of the British economy and British life once and for all”.

His comments drew a mixed response from occupational health and health and safety experts.

Steve Radley, director of policy at the manufacturers’ organisation the EEF, said that while the Government was right to be tackling the burden of false claims, ministers should not confuse a “compensation culture” with an overall “health and safety culture”.

“The Löfstedt review clearly indicated that the UK’s health and safety system is fit for purpose and that the problems lie with the interpretation of legislation by some parts of the insurance industry, not the legislation itself,” he added.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, added that the whole notion of a compensation culture was a myth.

“Workers will be astonished by the claim that there is an ‘excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses’. The truth is that there are two million people in the UK who have an illness or injury caused by their work – the vast majority of which could have been prevented had their employer taken the correct safety precautions,” he said.

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