Lord Young vs The Framework Directive

In my second outing on Dave Young’s report, we delve into just a few of his health and safety observations and recommendations.

Dave notes that H&S has become a bit of a joke. This wouldn’t be too bad if H&S advisers were in the business of making people laugh. Principally it’s the disproportionate application of H&S to low risk businesses that’s at issue. Good stuff that works pretty well in high hazard industries is being applied like a sledgehammer to businesses that really have very low risks (like offices, shops and schools). He blames the EU for this – the Framework Directive in particular.

The framework directive is rather like a misapplied girdle. Girdles (or whatever the masculine equivalent is called) are designed to hold things in; they mould fat into a rigid board approximating to a six pack (which curiously, is the name given to the raft of legislation which accompanied the framework directive when it first appeared). Thin people have no need of them, but they may still be forced to wear them because people think they need to feel the suffering just as much as them. They may wear them voluntarily as slaves to fashion or because they just want to fit in. Sometimes, it’s because of a lack of alternative. The severity and robustness of the old fashioned, one size fits all girdle, gives a sense of thoroughness and security. Nothing is likely to escape. On occasions when I have visited night clubs I have frequently seen several types of girdle – Oh, yes, what was I talking about – let’s get back to the point.

There also seems to have developed a move to eliminate risk entirely, which is neither possible nor desirable. Dave, quite charitably in my opinion, seems to think that mostly, it’s unqualified, poorly trained consultants that try to move their clients to do this. But, I think it’s more widespread than that. In my view, H&S people on the whole (including employees who act as H&S advisers) are often taught to view risk as negative and to be eliminated as far as possible (rather than as far as reasonably practicable). In a business context, risk can be positive or negative. Businesses have to take calculated risks everyday in order to survive and exploit new markets – they have to Manage Risk.

Dave is pretty supportive of the HSE but, and I think he’s right, small businesses are still left quite unsure about what to do and so may be at the mercy of external “expertise”. They are especially unsure as to whether they’ve done enough to meet legal standards and what constitutes a “suitable and sufficient” risk assessment. So, they call in the consultants, who may end up gold-plating the requirements. The truth is, these low risk businesses could do much of this for themselves because it’s all pretty obvious stuff. It’s just that it’s all a bit foggy and uncertain out there and everyone’s trying to sue the backsides off them (see my last post).

The HSE have stepped up to the challenge and already produced a tool for a “20 minute risk assessment”, with more things to follow. This should give the sort of confidence and certainty that has been lacking. This should also start to see the demise of H&S consultant intervention in small, low risk businesses, and enable them to spend more time watching daytime TV. The existing dependency is unnecessary, unnatural and quite disturbing (rather like a grown man wearing a girdle, in fact).

I get the sense that Dave has had a shed load of complaints about local authority officials. These are the ones who end up banning events on “H&S grounds”, without justification and with no appeal. He wants to change this so that the public has some comeback. Officials should have to give reasons and those reasons can be challenged and even compensation given if events are banned without proper justification. I don’t think he goes far enough. The originators of the really serious howlers should have to sit through an episode of X-factor or Big Brother, so they can experience the full weight of frustration and extreme limits of time wasting.

So, I think Dave is on to a winner here – kick out the consultants, simplify risk assessment, throw off your girdles, blame the EU and make local officials put things in writing. There’s more to come next week.