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Health & Safety

Lofstedt – Reviewing Health and Safety Regulation in The UK

Last year the government asked Ragnar Lofsted to review Health and Safety regulation in the UK. This is always tricky. It can be the kiss of death to any career aspirations if you say the wrong thing. But, like any good researcher he figured he would gather some data first. After all, who could argue with evidence?

In this and subsequent blogs, I thought I’d review some of his points and findings. It’s over a 100 pages long and there are no pictures. Though there are a few bar charts and tables. Ragner makes a good point right at the beginning. It’s a point that rings true and most have recognised from all the silly stories on health and safety that have lead to excessive application.

The point is that H&S regulation in the UK is not fundamentally flawed or excessive. Yes, of course everyone can point to isolated examples of poor, duplication or excessive, meaningless regulation. But, it tends to be the interpretation and application that can be excessive and wrong. This causes businesses to feel that they have to do far more than was ever intended. It causes some to feel swamped under a weight of regulation, and especially the fear of civil action. Points similar to this were made by Dave Young in his report last year too.

The general movement of UK regulations from prescriptive to goal setting (though in reality always a mixture) has always been difficult. On the one hand, it offers flexibility and allows proportionate, risk-based responses. On the other hand, it means that the adequacy of some measures is a cause for argument. That is, it can be difficult to be certain that you have done enough or what is considered reasonable. But that is unfortunately what life is like. The regulations are underpinned by codes of practice and guidance which offer practical advice; but these cannot consider every eventuality and, in some cases, become out dated. They have been accused of being too technical too – but to be much use, surely some of them need to be?

Ragner points out depressingly that, though we may aspire to change some of the dysfunctional legislation, in practice we cannot do so easily. Some of the confusion in legislation is of our own making – duplication, poor wording, lots of bits spread over many different pieces of legislation etc. Some of this can be helped by consolidation. But much of what we have stems directly from the UK’s membership of the EU. Short of an invasion, we have to move through the democratic process of influencing the parliament and council of the EU – that means long and lavish talks. And,  they are rather concerned about other matters, such as economic stability of its members.

In terms of enforcement, Ragner recommends that HSE essentially becomes responsible for enforcing most things, instead of the local authorities (i.e. councils). Yes, that could make it more consistent but HSE already faces a resourcing issue.

The government has issued a response to Ragner’s report – responding to each recommendation. Overall, it seems behind the recommendations, at least their objectives. They have committed to a timetable of reforms as a result, to demonstrate their commitment.

One Comment

  • Irina

    Some decent laws to preevnt the lunacy that is lumped under OHS or safety would be good. Example (not real):Drunk man dives into surf and cripples himself, gets multi million dollar pay out. Council response is to ban swimming. People cry murder over stupid laws on safety when really its the law/courts fault for paying some idiot in the first place, thereby placing the financial imperitive on councils to react and be the fun police. (On a side note, self defence laws are just as bad). If people took some personal responsibility, or the laws and/or court stopped paying idiots for being idiots we wouldn’t have as large a problem.On top of this is the emphasis on paper work, having the paper there, in theory to cover your backside. As I recently told a builder at a BBQ, if you are doing everything safely (Harness, scaffold, test and tag, etc) then you will never end up in court and have to show them any paper. And if you do end up in court then the paper doesn’t help as it either shows you didn’t follow it or shows it wasn’t adequate, so you’re stuffed either way. Whilst established paper procedures help medium and large businesses greatly, we seem to have burdened small business with this same mentality. They are the vast majority of businesses and writing up an AS4801 OHSMS is more onerous for them than BHP. So they think its a stupid beast, when really all we wanted them to do was wear a harness when they get on the roof There are a lot of people to blame for the monster, and the thing is the monster hasn’t made things very much safer.