Common Sense Common Safety
In the UK a report has just been published entitled Common Sense Common Safety by Lord Young of Graffham and delivered to the UK Prime Minister following a review of the operation of health and safety laws and the growth of the compensation culture.
Lord Young says in the Executive Summary of the Report:
The 1974 Health and Safety at Work etc Act has provided an effective framework for businesses and individuals for almost 40 years. Today we have the lowest number of non-fatal accidents and the second lowest number of fatal accidents at work in Europe. In my review of the workings of this Act, none of my recommendations applies to hazardous occupations where the present system, although probably overly bureaucratic, is nevertheless effective in reducing accidents at work.
Despite the success of the Act, the standing of health and safety in the eyes of the public has never been lower, and there is a growing fear among business owners of having to pay out for even the most unreasonable claims. Press articles recounting stories where health and safety rules have been applied in the most absurd manner, or disproportionate compensation claims have been awarded for trivial reasons, are a daily feature of our newspapers.
All this is largely the result of the way in which sensible health and safety rules that apply to hazardous occupations have been applied across all occupations. Part of the responsibility lies with the EU where the Framework Directive of 1989 has made risk assessments compulsory across all occupations, whether hazardous or not, and part to the enthusiasm with which often unqualified health and safety consultants have tried to eliminate all risk rather than apply the test in the Act of a 'reasonably practicable' approach.
Businesses now operate their health and safety policies in a climate of fear. The advent of 'no win, no fee' claims and the all-pervasive advertising by claims management companies have significantly added to the belief that there is a nationwide compensation culture. The 'no win, no fee' system gives rise to the perception that there is no financial risk to starting litigation; indeed some individuals are given financial enticements to make claims by claims management companies who are in turn paid ever-increasing fees by solicitors. Ultimately, all these costs are met by insurance companies who then increase premiums. However, any employer not covered by accident insurance faces bankruptcy, which encourages them to follow every recommendation of their health and safety consultant, no matter how absurd.
The system for claiming compensation is a growing industry in itself. Indeed concerns became such that in 2008 the Master of the Rolls asked Lord Justice Jackson to conduct a review into the costs of litigation. I fully endorse the recommendations that he has made.
The incentives for claiming compensation have to change. The system must be fair and proportionate without placing an excessive financial burden on the losing party. Claimants have a legal right to make fair and reasonable claims without undue bureaucracy. I propose that the scheme recently introduced for road traffic accidents be extended to cover straightforward personal injury claims. This will deliver a simple, cheaper and quicker resolution of claims. I also propose tighter regulation of advertising by claims management companies. My report highlights the role that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities have in promoting a common sense approach to health and safety.
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