Careful enforcement, not new laws, is answer to health and safety debate | 02 December 09
EXPERTS at leading North law firm Ward Hadaway say that sensible enforcement not new legislation is needed to tackle what David Cameron has called the UK’s “over the top” health and safety culture.
In a speech on December 1, the Conservative leader said the current approach to health and safety had led to a "stultifying blanket of bureaucracy, suspicion and fear" which hampered many everyday activities.
Mr Cameron announced that former Conservative Trade Secretary Lord Young would lead a review into how the health and safety culture can be curbed, including amending the Health and Safety At Work Act.
However, health and safety experts at Ward Hadaway, which has offices in Newcastle and Leeds, say that changing the law is not the answer.
James Thompson, partner and head of the firm’s health and safety team, said: “There is no real need to create new or amend existing legislation just for the sake of it.
“There is not a problem with the main health and safety legislation in itself – the main issue lies with the way that it is enforced.
“We need proportionate, sensible enforcement which takes account of all the facts. If an organisation takes reasonable precautions and has sensible systems in place and an accident occurs, there should not be an implied presumption in favour of prosecuting them every time.
“It is this approach of automatic prosecution in the event of any incident which makes organisations risk-averse - whether it is perceived or real - regulators have a job to do convincing organisations that an accident does not automatically mean prosecution.
“In the majority of criminal cases the Crown Prosecution Service would review a police investigation and make a decision to commence a prosecution. This review is totally independent of the police investigation.
“The Health & Safety Executive and local authorities who enforce the law in this area have no such independent body to review their decisions to prosecute - such a body in this area of law is long overdue.
“Sensible, proportionate enforcement is the way forward, not a wholesale rewriting of current laws.”
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