Between now and the 23rd June there will undoubtedly be all manner of debate and heated discussion about whether we are better off in or out of the European Union. Should we stay or should we go?
The economic and political debate will be top of the news agenda, but what about the oft quoted “elf n safety” agenda, will the likes of Clarkson and Littlejohn use this as an opportunity to take well aimed shots at society’s march towards the “compensation culture” and try to link this to European meddling in our safety laws?
The growth of the claims management industry has got to be significant factor in the volume of compensation claims made in the civil courts, an industry highlighted in Lord Young’s review of safety law in the UK in 2010. In his executive summary he commented:
“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”
There is a huge question as to whether the compensation culture is more a reflection on our society than any reality about our safety laws. HSE’s own Dame Judith Hackett DBE FREng will no doubt touch on this during a debate in March when she will recognise that the HSE has had to fight hard to re-establish its reputation in the UK, which is partly caused by media exaggeration of stories blamed on “elf n safety” that have little to do with the prevention of death and serious injury to people at work. Judith will also argue that managers and leaders in business must share some of the responsibility for having lost sight of the basic principles and over-bureaucratising what should be an integral part of everyone’s role.
Whatever your political persuasion and views on whether we should be in or out, it should not be forgotten that in the UK we have had safety laws designed to protect workers since the 1802 Health and Morals of Apprentices Act was passed, this early piece of safety law was promoted by Sir Robert Peel, an MP (and father of the future prime minister) who himself was a wealthy factory owner. He was concerned to see that humane standards of treatment were established for the increasing numbers of ‘pauper apprentices’ employed in factories like his own.
Followed by other industry specific pieces of domestic safety legislation through the 1800s and 1900s and after the Robens report of 1972 The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 was enacted. This enabling Act has been the underpinning law protecting workers and others for over 40 years, it is the more often than not the law that enforcers use to prosecute those who transgress.
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 was described as “a bold and far-reaching piece of legislation” by HSE’s first Director General, John Locke. It certainly marked a departure from the framework of prescribed and detailed regulations which was in place at the time. The Act introduced a new system based on less-prescriptive and more goal-based regulations, supported by guidance and codes of practice. This principle has of course been extended within The Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 and The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 with the duty holder having to assess risk to determine what control measures should be put in place.
While it is true that the introduction of the 6 pack of Regulations driven by a European Directive in 1992/3 introduced a swathe of additional regulations, the majority of the new duties could be argued to have been an attempt to make implied duties from the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 explicit.
While the debate about whether we should stay in or leave will rage over the coming months, UK enforcing agencies including the HSE, local authority EHOs and fire and rescue service inspecting officers will continue to apply UK legislation proportionally to ensure that the workforce and others affected by business activities are as safe as possible.
Meanwhile some claims management companies will continue to encourage the general populous to make spurious claims, feeding on the get rich quick, it wasn’t my fault, I am entitled to compensation minority.
Should we stay or should we go? You decide.