A common sense approach?

15 Apr

On Wednesday I attended a conference at The Barbican, Health and Safety Reform 2011: A Common Sense Approach. The Brutalist architecture and the rabbit-warren of corridors and rooms provided an interesting backdrop to the proceedings. I’m new to the British Safety Council’s communications team (I started on Monday), so it was a bit of a crash course in the key issues facing the management of health and safety at the moment. I’ve been engaged to a certain extent with health and safety over the course of last year (I worked in the British Safety Council’s Customer Service Team and the Examinations Department before moving here) but this was my first opportunity to attend and engage in discussions regarding the future direction of the field.

It was an interesting conference (though I must admit, a lot of the technical information went over my head). The conference aimed to provide a platform for debate concerning the legislative reforms, the attempts to tackle ‘compensation culture’ and the red tape and bureaucracy that weigh businesses and local authorities down.

The event saw talks from Judith Hackitt, chair of HSE, our very own Neal Stone, John Armitt of the ODA and panel debate attended by, among others, Madeleine Abas, a leading health and safety lawyer and Amanda Brown, assistant secretary of the employment conditions and rights department of the NUT.

I particularly enjoyed the panel discussion. The audience were invited to pose questions to the panellists: ‘has the corporate manslaughter act been a white elephant?’, ‘is common sense all that common?’ (the panellists didn’t seem to think so), ‘is there really such a thing as a compensation culture in this country?’.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ report Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone says that businesses, particularly SMEs, are weighed down by current health and safety legislation and concerns over potential litigation, and we need to free them from these burdensome shackles so that Britain’s economy can grow and an entrepreneurial spirit flourish. In 2008 the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform conducted a survey of SMEs, with some respondents saying that health and safety regulations were nearly twice as much of an obstacle to business success as any other area of legislation. Derek Allen, the executive director of Local Government Regulation, suggested in his talk ‘Liberation from Legislation’ that we need to cut through unnecessary and outdated regulations, and it seems this opinion is widely shared. The government’s drafted in Professor Ragnar Löfstedt to review health and safety legislation. Part of his brief, according to Good Health and Safety…, will be to look into whether there is sound justification for any of the EU directives we’ve adopted.

A fair few people expressed concerns over European Union health and safety directives and the challenge these seem to pose to the Coalition Government’s attempts to reduce the legislative burden. Madeleine Abas suggested that some of the proposals on the table at the moment will go nowhere as the UK is governed by onerous EU directives; directives that the country has strongly backed.

In his speech, Neal Stone mentioned that the British Safety Council recently surveyed its members regarding the proposals laid out in Lord Young’s Common Sense, Common Safety. Judging by the survey, broadly speaking, the health and safety law reforms aimed at reducing the regulatory burden on small businesses are not supported.

The conference was interesting and very I’m glad I attended. In his speech Neal called for a public debate into the future of health and safety as the consequences will be wide ranging. I look forward to making my own common sense contribution.

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