Health and safety review receives mixed reaction with fears little will change

The government review of health and safety legislation has received mixed reactions from experts, with some fearing not much will change.

Earlier in the week, prime minister David Cameron appointed Lord Young to undertake a Whitehall-wide review of health and safety legislation and the growth of the compensation culture.

Young has been tasked with investigating concerns that the application and perception of health and safety legislation has been stifling businesses.

But Mike Emmott, employee engagement adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said health and safety had been reviewed several times in the past few decades, and relatively little of the legislation had been changed.

“I wouldn’t anticipate that it will be easier now to find [health and safety] legislation to strike down,” he said.

Tackling the so-called compensation culture that has developed over the past few decades – where employees take legal action against employers for accidents, stress or illness – will also be tricky, Emmott warned.

“People are frightened about the possibility that they will be held liable for some possible technical breach of health and safety rules,” he said. “How do you tackle these attitudes? Is it up to insurers, lawyers or ministers?”

But Stephen Chaffey, a health and safety lawyer at law firm Dundas & Wilson, said Lord Young’s review might help to dispel myths about over-cautious and restrictive health and safety laws.

“Where you hear of extreme outcomes or decisions adopted by organisations, they tend to be as a result of over-zealous interpretation of health and safety laws, rather than as a direct result of the rules themselves. I’d hope that this review will promote a more balanced approach and focus on what are, in actual fact, very sensible and important principles.”

The Health and Safety Executive, Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety, welcomed the review, saying it hoped any changes would stop employers using the regulations as a “convenient excuse to hide behind” when withdrawing or refusing services.

Meanwhile Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said the review was an attempt to weaken protection for workers.

“This will not be an open and frank review aimed at achieving better regulation,” he said. “Instead it is an attempt to undermine the already limited protection that workers have by focusing on the needs of business.”

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