Lord Young is due to use the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham to outline his plans to curb the growth of the ‘compensation culture’ and the excesses of rampant health and safety.
The peer is concerned that not only are many local authorities canceling events unnecessarily by claiming that they breach heath and safety regulations, he is also annoyed that many of these bodies do not even have the right to exercise these powers in the first place. He wishes to remove the need for someone to always be held accountable in law for genuine accidents, as well as the swathes of red tape that surround a basic occurrence like the organisation of a school trip.
He lists several examples of ‘health and safety gone mad,’ including a head teacher that refused to allow pupils to walk under a horse chestnut tree without protective headgear. Other examples that have come to light in recent years include an elderly lady who was asked to don a high-visibility vest when she was working on her council-owned garden and schoolchildren in Bournemouth who were asked not to bring their own inflatables to a swimming pool in case they brought germs with them.
Lord Young, a former member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet, told the Daily Mail:
“Frankly, if I want to do something stupid and break my leg or neck, that’s up to me. I don’t need a council to tell me not to be an idiot. I can be an idiot all by myself.”
“It has gone to such extremes. What I have seen everywhere is a complete lack of common sense. People have been living in an alternative universe.”
Under the new proposals, councils and local authorities could be made to pay compensation to people injured by negligence, rather than having the power to blanket-ban everything outright or suggest ridiculous ways of getting around regulations that aren’t even there.
Health and safety officer Hugh Robinson is skeptical of local authorities’ motives in banning so many sporting events, fetes and games, saying that half the time financial constraints are the real reason so many of them are banned or shut down.
Critics of the new government proposals seem to suggest that the attack on health and safety is a way of appeasing the baying masses who want to see so many things that they think are ‘wrong with Britain’ being scrapped.
They say that, far from being a fair target for derision, health and safety regulations are an essential component of working life in the UK. Without them, the 20,000 people estimated to die from workplace injuries or industrial disease every year would just be the tip of the iceberg.
Work injuries occur every day and are often the fault of employers not taking their responsibilities seriously enough. In industries like the construction and manufacturing trades, where heavy machinery is an essential component of working life, these legal obligations cannot be brushed aside. Risk assessments and thorough training must take place as regularly as possible. Nothing is as sacrosanct as human life and wellbeing, and employers putting their financial interests before the safety of their staff should arguably be caught and heavily punished.
This brings us to the second leg of Young’s outline – he also wants to clamp down on compensation companies advertising, another idea that had met with criticism. The main line of argument from the anti-compensation lobby is that such advertising encourages spurious claims for minor injuries. This may be true, but people seeking to make money for nothing know where to look anyway, whether or not they see a company advertised on TV.
The more pertinent point is that, in the case of, say, workers who are injured thanks to their employers’ lax approach to their safety, they need to have an avenue through which to pursue a compensation claim.
As Mr Robertson said, “The real health and safety scandal in the UK is the 20,000 people who die each year due to injury or diseases linked to their work. A serious review of health and safety would put far more emphasis on dealing with this avoidable death and suffering.”