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GOVERNMENT REVIEW OF HEALTH AND SAFETY SYSTEM

Lord Young Report: Implications for the UK construction industry

The Prime Minister’s adviser on health and safety law and practice, has published his report Common Sense, Common Safety. The report follows a Whitehall-wide review of the operation of health and safety laws and the growth of the compensation culture.

The PM said:

“Good health and safety is vitally important. But all too often good, straightforward legislation designed to protect people from major hazards has been extended inappropriately to cover every walk of life, no matter how low risk.

A damaging compensation culture has arisen, as if people can absolve themselves from any personal responsibility for their own actions, with the spectre of lawyers only too willing to pounce with a claim for damages on the slightest pretext.”

The PM and the Cabinet have accepted all of the recommendations (see below) and Lord Young will now work to ensure the recommendations are carried through.

Construction implications unclear

The report contains few recommendations clearly directed at the construction sector. However, the following may be key aspects for the industry. 

1. Clarity of legal requirements: the report states that the The Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) was concerned that interpreting what is meant by the term ‘reasonably practicable’ was one of the main causes of burdens and unnecessary costs for those working in the construction industry.

There was “strong support across the board” for more detailed, targeted advice on interpreting regulations and carrying out risk assessments from HSE, particularly from those representing small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The recommendations on Low hazard workplaces and Health and safety legislation are relevant to these concerns. 

2. Compensation culture: the construction industry fatal injury rate has fallen progessivly over the last three years. However, thousands of non-fatal injuries still occur each year. The action on compensation culture may help reduce the incidence of ‘illegimate’ claims  

3. Health and safety consultants: action to secure greater professionalism amoung health and safety consultants through accreditation will be taken forward by HSE and various professional bodies including IOSH. This recommendation is primarily driven by consultants engaged in ‘low hazard’ sectors. 

The British Constructional Steelwork Association Ltd thought that insisting on a degree and two years’ work experience was an overreaction and may produce too few consultants. The BCSA suggested that endorsements from trade associations may be a better route.

4. Reporting incidents: the most specific recommendation concerns the proposal to increase the period before reporting a minor injury to 7 days from the current 3 days. 

Comment

The ‘low hazard’ industries are the main target of the report. This term is not defined although it is difficult to see how any sector of construction industry could be regarded as ‘low hazard’. 

The call by ICE for further guidance on what is ‘reasonably practicable’ is not new and could backfire by producing even more undefinitive guidance to digest and argue over. Always be careful what you wish for!

Three day injuries are to become seven day injuries. It is dificult to see what saving or advantage this will convey to the construction sector. The good report diligently. This change may only make it less likely that those who need help will report incidents.

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SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS

 

Compensation culture

  • Introduce a simplified claims procedure for personal injury claims similar to that for road traffic accidents under £10,000 on a fixed costs basis. Explore the possibility of extending the framework of such a scheme to cover low value medical negligence claims.
  • Examine the option of extending the upper limit for road traffic accident personal injury claims to £25,000.
  • Introduce the recommendations in Lord Justice Jackson’s review of civil litigation costs.
  • Restrict the operation of referral agencies and personal injury lawyers and control the volume and type of advertising.
  • Clarify (through legislation if necessary) that people will not be held liable for any consequences due to well-intentioned voluntary acts on their part.

Low hazard workplaces

  • Simplify the risk assessment procedure for low hazard workplaces such as offices, classrooms and shops. The HSE should create simpler interactive risk assessments for low hazard workplaces, and make them available on its website.
  • The HSE should create periodic checklists that enable businesses operating in low hazard environments to check and record their compliance with regulations as well as online video demonstrations of best practice in form completion.
  • The HSE should develop similar checklists for use by voluntary organisations.
  • Exempt employers from risk assessments for employees working from home in a low hazard environment.
  • Exempt self-employed people in low hazard businesses from risk assessments.

Raising standards

  • Professionalise health and safety consultants with a qualification requirement that all consultants should be accredited to professional bodies. Initially the HSE could take the lead in establishing the validation body for qualifications, working with the relevant sector and professional bodies. However, this function should be run by the professional bodies as soon as possible.
  • Establish a web based directory of accredited health and safety consultants.

Insurance

  • Insurance companies should cease the current practice that requires businesses operating in low hazard environments to employ health and safety consultants to carry out full health and safety risk assessments.
  • Where health and safety consultants are employed to carry out full health and safety risk assessments, only qualified consultants who are included on the web based directory should be used.
  • There should be consultation with the insurance industry to ensure that worthwhile activities are not unnecessarily curtailed on health and safety grounds. Insurance companies should draw up a code of practice on health and safety for businesses and the voluntary sector. If the industry is unable to draw up such a code, then legislation should be considered.

Education

  • Simplify the process that schools and similar organisations undertake before taking children on trips.
  • Introduce a single consent form that covers all activities a child may undertake during his or her time at a school.
  • Introduce a simplified risk assessment for classrooms.
  • Shift from a system of risk assessment to a system of risk–benefit assessment and consider reviewing the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to separate out play and leisure from workplace contexts.

Local authorities

  • Officials who ban events on health and safety grounds should put their reasons in writing.
  • Enable citizens to have a route for redress where they want to challenge local officials’ decisions. Local authorities will conduct an internal review of all refusals on the grounds of health and safety.
  • Citizens should be able to refer unfair decisions to the Ombudsman, and a fast track process should be implemented to ensure that decisions can be overturned within two weeks. If appropriate, the Ombudsman may award damages where it is not possible to reinstate an event. If the Ombudsman’s role requires further strengthening, then legislation should be considered.

Health and safety legislation

  • The HSE should produce clear separate guidance under the Code of Practice focused on small and medium businesses engaged in lower risk activities.
  • The current raft of health and safety regulations should be consolidated into a single set of accessible regulations.
  • The UK should take the lead in cooperating with other member states to ensure that EU health and safety rules for low risk businesses are not overly prescriptive, are proportionate and do not attempt to achieve the elimination of all risk.

Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995

  • Amend the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995, through which businesses record workplace accidents and send returns to a centralised body, by extending to seven days the period before an injury or accident needs to be reported.
  • The HSE should also re-examine the operation of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 to determine whether this is the best approach to providing an accurate national picture of workplace accidents.

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