JamBerry Ltd

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Health and Safety ridiculed for excess...

I come to bury Caesar not to praise him ... "Et tu Brute!"

James Hammerton-Fraser MD and H&S consultant at JamBerry Ltd has written a guest blog post.

Health & Safety is being held up to ridicule for its excess, blamed for almost any decision not to proceed and worst of all it has become a political football. An easy target with little or no supporters to protect it from the ravages of political will. We are told that ‘bureaucracy’ is holding back business. Whilst I do believe that the HR legislation (hiring and firing) existing in the country today may well be holding back business I find it astonishing that Health & Safety legislation is holding back much at all apart from the excesses of employers not looking after their employee’s wellbeing.

I would always agree that ongoing review of any process is a good thing and that on an ongoing basis legislation, codes of practice and culture should be reviewed to ensure it still fits the time and place. Health & Safety in the UK and Europe is all relatively new, it should also be added the vast proportion of EU legislation on Health & Safety in fact was generated from the UK. The latest reviews by Lord Young and Prof. Loefsted have supported the legislation and it implementation. Contrary to Cable and Osborne who are proclaiming that they will cut 50% or more of the regulations/ bureaucracy in place to reduce the ‘business burden’, and apparently by the spring of 2013, I find myself asking ‘why’? To what end is the cut actually required? In this case is Brutus a bit quick to wield the knife?

“HSE limited on proactive inspection.” Rather good sound bite for a politician. Actuality the cuts in the budget for the HSE has meant that they do not have the time to spend on proactively helping or hindering business anyway. So what is the role of the HSE? Well it would appear that they have little time allowed but to act as the police/prosecution service with regard to Health & Safety. A real shame that the wealth of knowledge that this institution has built up over the years has been diminished to prosecuting the obviously guilty.

Such as the, “Builder faces jail over toddler's death”. A builder sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted of gross negligence manslaughter in the case of a three-year-old girl who was killed when a substandard wall collapsed on top of her. Few would argue this tragic case deserves action.

Headlines such as “Will work be the death of you? Workers exposed to dangers because of savage health inspectors cuts - There are now only three occupational physicians left at the HSE and 18 occupational health inspectors” (Mirror 2nd Oct 2012) pose the question, “Where do the HSE fit in the no bureaucracy regime?” which politicians are so eloquently pronouncing.

Government reforms to the ‘workplace safety framework’, and what these will mean for different ‘stakeholders’ and the timescales for their implementation are all rather vague when you actually get into the detail. Balance this against the government’s Health & Safety strategies to focus on workplace health, looking at the role of Government in this area, improving risk management and how days lost through sickness can be reduced.

The words of Julius Caesar start to ring in my ears; “As a rule, men worry more about what they can't see than about what they can!”

So are our politicians shooting themselves in the foot by shouting about what is actually not there and in the process loosing what has been a well balance interest of the wellbeing of the employee and employer?

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