Lofty ideals – Chapter 1


As promised, I will be looking at some of the Loftstedt report in more detail over a series of blogs. I write this one from Dubai (as the ‘Hood’ famously said in an episode of Thunderbirds – ‘no-one can stop me now, already I have shaken off the police’, shortly before he careered off an unfinished bridge into a lake).

History is a wonderful thing – or so the History teachers tell us. Loftstedt begins his report in Chapter 1 by reminding us all about how things used to be. Before the 1974 health and safety at work act, things were complex, prescriptive and overly fixated on the workplace fixtures and fittings. Things had moved on and there was more a need to look at systems, management and human interactions. The problem with humanity is that we never really see the whole picture. There is some value in looking back and trying to fudge what we see into categories and genres but these are artificial constructs that were certainly not apparent to the people at the time. No doubt in 40 years time, our successors will be looking back and saying ‘what were they thinking of’.

The world is complicated and there are lots of influences pulling politicians and legislators in different directions. There are also many different views of how to proceed. Loftstedt points out that events such as Piper Alpha fire/explosion in 1988 initiated additional regulatory controls that had previously not been envisaged. The need to notify HSE about tower cranes is another example – this isn’t a ‘train spotter thing’. As a result, simple frameworks rapidly become more complex and piecemeal. Hence the need for regular reviews and consolidations. Businesses have become fed up with the increased regulation which they think is getting in the way of them doing anything. I must admit, even as a health and safety person, it is difficult to keep track of everything. Sometimes, it’s not that requirements are onerous, it’s just where to find everything and especially being sure you’ve taken account of all the amendments that might be out there. Some websites take care of this for you but they are not always fully up to date.

Businesses are well aware for the need for health and safety regulation. They don’t generally want to throw it all away. Non-one wants a return to the death rates of bygone ages.

I like the fact that Lofty recognises the ‘law of unintended consequences’. This is a well known concept. When we try to change things we can introduce new risks. Some of these are opportunities but some are threats. We don’t always think things through. He therefore urges caution. Next time, we’ll light the blue touch paper….