Sheffield health and safety expert Jeremy Brooke says Britain’s increasingly unpopular regulations on safety in the workplace form a vital part of legislation for both employers and employees.
Mr Brooke, a partner in city law firm Simpson Sissons & Brooke, warns that, despite Prime Minister David Cameron’s slating of current legislation, there is a vital need for the law to take an active stance on protecting the individual.
Mr Cameron has berated health and safety policy, describing it as an “infuriating straightjacket on personal initiative and responsibility” and “a great knot of rules, regulations, expectations and fears that I would call over-the-top health and safety culture.”
But Mr Brooke pointed out that the 180 people who died at work in the UK in 2008/9 and whose deaths could have possibly have been avoided through proper planning, training and education, might not agree.
And he says that media reports of children’s conker matches being cancelled and school trips being abandoned because of health and safety fears have simply distorted the issue and made people wary of something that was designed to provide proper support.
“Over-cautious local councils are often responsible for spreading a sense of dread of health and safety regulations by misinterpreting the legislation,” he said.
“If the law is interpreted correctly and applied sensibly, none of the regulations are overly onerous or restrictive.
“The starting point is always simple and the HSE website provides clear step-by-step guidelines.”
Jeremy added that proper implementation of HSE regulations could also help the economy.
“The 24.6 million work days which were lost as a result of work-related ill health in 2008/9 will have reduced productivity and quite likely contributed to sizeable insurance premiums,” he said.
“Through adhering to legislation, businesses can help protect their productivity and keep a cap on their insurance premiums. Both sides of this debate can point to ridiculous examples to illustrate their perspective but it must be recognised that the court only prosecutes where the law has been broken.
“The law is designed to protect people but not condone stupidity, to support the reasonable person who has acted in reasonable manner without impinging on everyday life.
“Current health and safety legislation is an important deterrent to companies that would otherwise have scant regard for the safety and welfare of others.
“Instead of relaxing the current rules perhaps we should seek to reinforce them with more vigorous criminal sanctions, thereby imposing personal – as against corporate – social responsibility on lackadaisical employers and directors.”