Toxic, Corrosive and Hazardous – the Government’s record on health and safety
Download The Government record on H&S [PDF]
Death by a thousand reviews
One of the first things the government did was to set up a review into our health and safety system – or, as it called it, the “burden” of our health and safety system. This was done by Lord Young and it started as a Conservative Party policy review, but after election became a government review. By then evidence had been taken and the report partly written and organisations given under three weeks to prepare and present evidence. When it was published, in October 2010, very few of the conclusions were based on evidence and the report admitted that much of the problem was “perceptions”. However, it accepted that the basic health and safety system was sound and made few major recommendations on legislation beyond proposals on reporting of injuries. Most of the recommendations were around food safety, consultants and compensation. Not one single proposal to improve health and safety was contained in the report. It did, however, reject the proposal in the Coalition Agreement to exempt the police from health and safety regulation.
That was quickly followed by a further review by Professor Löfstedt of King’s College London. Like the Young Review, it was limited to looking at the “burden” of regulation. The terms of reference were: “The review will consider the opportunities for reducing the burden of health and safety legislation on UK businesses whilst maintaining the progress made in improving health and safety outcomes.”
It was published in November 2011 and, also like the Young Review, it found that the current framework was fit for purpose and there was no evidence of excessive regulation, or of a compensation culture. Again it made a number of recommendations on compensation, the self-employed and consolidating regulations, but was generally positive about the need for regulation and a strong health and safety culture.
At the same time as the Löfstedt Review was being conducted, the government ran the Red Tape Challenge, which involved asking businesses (but not unions) what health and safety regulations could be removed. This was a lengthy exercise but the overall result was that the vast majority of respondents, rather than saying that regulations could be removed, were either supportive of the existing regulations or suggested improvements. This was a major embarrassment for the government. Virtually the only thing that came out of it was a recommendation that electrical equipment did not have to be automatically tested every year. In actual fact there had never been such a requirement.
Finally, in 2013, the government asked the head of the Engineering Employers’ Federation, Martin Temple, to review the HSE to see whether it was fit for purpose. Like Young and Löfstedt, Temple found no major problems with the health and safety system and presented a glowing report of the work of the HSE and the need for strong health and safety regulation and enforcement.
Clearly this was not what the government wanted to hear, so it said it would be going further than the report recommended in a number of areas.
None of these reviewers was asked to look at what could be done to improve health and safety; that was not even on the agenda. But what these reviews all show is that the government is hell-bent on trying to reduce health and safety protection – and if it does not like the answers it is given, it just sets up another review.
While all the reviews have been generally supportive, each has eaten away a little at the regulations we have. At the same time the HSE and the health and safety community have suffered from review overload as a result of the changes and uncertainties. These have had a major effect on the work of the HSE, as well as the view of industry towards the HSE and health and safety in general.