Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lord Young Report on “‘elf n’ safety” A modern day siren?

I’ve just done my duty as an union safety rep and have read this completely nonsensical report bizarrely titled “Common Sense, Common Safety”.  Imagine a Daily Mail editorial 58 pages long evidenced almost entirely by “stories” (myths) published in the Sun, the Star, the Daily Express and the Torygraph.   It starts off by talking about the so-called rise of “compensation culture” in the UK even though he includes a summary that accepts the “consensus of evidence” from "stakeholders" describes this as a “myth” (page 46).  This is not the only myth in this “report”.
Good health and safety, systems and practices, have nothing to do with any supposed failings regarding personal injuries claims and compensation.  Frankly like the “stakeholders” I don’t believe that the UK is a compensation Nirvana since I have seen people hurt at work down to employer negligence and who don’t get any money or got pitiful amounts.  In the "Forward" Lord Young confusingly moans that “if there’s a blame, there’s a claim’... “and any claim means financial recompense”.  Of course if someone is to blame there should be compensation?  This is entirely different from saying “any claim” must result in compensation. 
On Page 10 he states that “the standing of health and safety in the eyes of the public has never been lower” This is complete rubbish.  You can only believe this if you rely on the tabloid media.  Health and safety is a key issue for people at work and is given as a major reason by members for joining unions.  There are very few of us who do not know someone, a relative, work colleague or family member who was killed at work or died of work related ill-health.  Only if you read the Daily Biles would you think this.  Lord Young states “Almost every day the papers compete to write about absurdity after absurdity” page 20.  True, but he misses the point.  These absurdities are nearly always absurd myths and often blatant untruths.  As his “Annex D: Behind the myth: the truth behind health and safety hysteria in the media” even makes clear.
Officials who ban events on health and safety” should put it in writing.  This is another silly myth.  Health and Safety Enforcement officers rarely “ban” events and if they do of course it would be in writing and open to challenge.  Has he never actually read or seen an enforcement notice from the HSE or a local authority?  Once again Lord Young appears to be just currying favour with the tabloids.
Words rarely fail me but I was completely taken aback at his recommendation that police officers or fire fighters should not be threatened with prosecution for putting themselves at risk for a “heroic act”! I have ever heard or read of any Police officers or fire fighters being “threatened” for such acts and could never imagine it would happen?  He has the cheek to talk about a “common sense” approach to things!
He wants less regulation of “low risk offices” and states that “No office workers died in 2009 due to accidents at work”? I would like to check this but how many office workers died from asbestos related disease and how many committed suicide due to occupational stress in 2009?  How many office workers now live in agony due to repetitive strain injuries they picked up in 2009?  It takes about 5 minutes, once a year, to risk assess a well managed office.  How is this a “burden”?  How much time and money does it cost a business if a worker is injured after tripping over a hazard and being off sick for a week?

Lord Young also confuses “eliminate risk” and “gold plating” (that bloody term again).  He actually implies that you should not try and eliminate risk since it encourages too much paperwork?  Everyone with the slightest knowledge of health and safety know you cannot eliminate all risks in life but it is an absolute basic building block of any safe system of work that you eliminate all significant risks that it is reasonably practical to do so.

Another myth being perpetuated in this report is that he states (page 11) that under the EU Framework Directive 1989 businesses have to risk assess everything. This is nonsense. You have to assess “significant” risks not everything.  For example you do not have to assess the risk of a meteorite falling on your head at work.  It may well be a risk but it is clearly not a significant risk. Common Sense?

I agree with the recommendation that health and safety consultants should be regulated (but that was already in hand under the previous government).  But he clearly does not understand existing safety practice by calling for “processes are in place to ensure that assessments are proportionate” since this is already in place, doesn’t he understand the concept of “reasonability”?
How can you possibly exempt people working from home from being covered by risk assessments?  Most such assessments I have seen just require an employee to email a digital photo of their workplace at home, do their normal Display Screen Equipment (DSE) training and fill out a tick list.  Hardly rocket science.  Lord Young despite apparently being an successful businessman doesn’t “get it” that risk assessments are there to protect the employer as well as the employees.
How on earth can he stop insurance companies requiring health and safety audits? (page 12) Insurances companies are independent and competitive businesses who decide policies and practices based on hard statistics? If they did not think that an audit was not necessary they wouldn’t ask for it.
My final myth is the recommendation that accidents and ill health should only be reported after someone is off work for 7 days instead of the current 3 days.  Since it is apparently too time consuming for businesses.  What twaddle.  He even supports the idea that employers will still have to investigate such incidents and look for yourself how you can make such a report online or on the phone in minutes.  He simply does not understand that prevention is better than the cure.  The HSE/LA want to know if an employer has a usual number of (so-called) minor accidents since it would indicate that there are problems that need investigating.
There are indeed “no win, no fee” corrupt lawyers in this country (and many honourable and professional ones).  By all means sort out the thieves who effectively steal compensation from their clients and make us all pay more in premiums but don’t blame elf n’ safety for this. 
There are also elf n’ safety con merchants who sell over the top and usually useless procedures to businesses.  However, don’t confuse this with an attack on health and safety itself.  Don’t pander to the mythology of the “Daily Biles”. 
What this report does demonstrate is that such is the widespread ignorance and misunderstanding of basic safety issues at the highest levels that we actually need greater regulation and enforcement not less.  I hope against expectation that no one  will listen to this completely flawed and potentially dangerous siren call.


Anonymous said...

just look at the A grade students who went on holiday to Coleraine and died of Carbon monoxide poisoning because heatinge not installed correctly, remember the case of the holiday family in Greece


John Gray said...

very true anon

modernity said...

Great post, John,

You should cover this again, and again. It deserves it.

John Gray said...


Tony C said...

Albert Einstein's definition of common sense - 'a collection of prejudices acquired by the age of 18'


Team said...

Excellent post and good insight!

John Gray said...

Ta very much!