With five months at most to go before a general election, Conservative leader David Cameron has said he will reform the UK’s health and safety laws should his party come to power.
In a speech made in December, Cameron said he wanted to do away with an “all-pervasive rules culture”, and reduce the burden and impact of health and safety legislation on employers in a responsible way.
“Businesses, organisations and individuals operate under the shadow of the worst-case scenario,” he said. “The more vulnerable they feel, the more cautiously they act – and the more stringent their health and safety processes become,” he added.
Health and safety rules had created a “stultifying blanket of bureaucracy, suspicion and fear”, Cameron said.
He pledged the Conservative party would establish new principles about when health and safety legislation was appropriate, and introduce new laws to bring an end excessive litigation.
He also announced that former trade secretary Lord Young would lead a review looking at whether it was possible to extend legal protection for all people “acting in good faith”, especially public service professionals.
The review would also look at how to alleviate some of the health and safety oversight on small, local and voluntary organisations, and whether there is a need for a new Civil Liability Act to define civil liability for negligence within law.
He proposed the Health and Safety at Work Act be amended to ensure the danger of prosecution does not put teachers off taking children on adventurous activities.
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health described the speech as offering a “sensible safety debate”.
But TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said it was not true that employers were over-zealous in their application of health and safety regulation.
“The reality is exactly the opposite – last year, 246,000 people were injured at work. Neither does the UK have an excess of regulation – there were more than twice as many health and safety regulations and laws 35 years ago than there are now. Today’s safety laws are generally simpler and easier to understand,” he added.