Reduce health and safety burden, Cameron adviser urges
- 2 October 2010
- From the section UK Politics
An end to "excessive" health and safety rules that enable councils to cancel popular activities is to be urged by an adviser to the prime minister.
Lord Young said form-filling had replaced common sense, and the rules had become "a music-hall joke".
In a government-commissioned report, the Tory peer calls for a clampdown on lawyers who "entice" people to pursue personal injury claims.
Lawyers say the legal right to claim damages should remain protected.
In his report, to be unveiled after next week's Conservative Party conference, Lord Young will say the public should be able to challenge local authorities that ban events on health and safety grounds.
In June Prime Minister David Cameron asked the peer, who served Margaret Thatcher as a trade and industry secretary, to review health and safety regulations in England and Wales which in the past the prime minister has described as "over the top".
Speaking to the BBC, Lord Young said that while there was "nothing wrong with health and safety" its remit had spread over the last last ten years to cover "everything."
"It's been the same laws that apply to a heavy manufacturing or chemical plant, apply to an office, to a shop and to a classroom and that is nonsense.
"So we find people the whole time filling in forms and spending an enormous amount of time and effort instead of doing what they should be doing which is looking out and using common sense."
However, Richard Jones, of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, said that the regulations were often used as "convenient excuse" for not doing something.
He said: "Real health and safety isn't over the top - it enables things to happen, playing a key and positive role in successful and confident societies," he said, adding that he would welcome greater clarity on why decisions are taken."
When he launched the review in December, Mr Cameron cited cases of children being told to wear goggles to play conkers, restaurants being banned from handing out toothpicks and trainee hairdressers being banned from using scissors as examples of silly practice.
The Young report said local authorities, in future, should explain their decisions to ban events on health and safety grounds in writing.
It said that the public should be able to refer decisions to halt events to an ombudsman and, if deemed to be unfair, they should be reveresed within two weeks.
If an event cannot be staged as a result, the organiser could be awarded damages, he added.
The advice given by more than 3,000 local authority inspectors to individuals and low-risk workplaces, such as pubs and shops, is often inconsistent, Lord Young believes.
"In some instances, it is clear that officials are giving poor advice to organisations and individuals who are, in turn, prevented from running an event, such as a school fete, when there is no legitimate reason not to on health and safety grounds," he said.
Lord Young has also reviewed advertising by personal injury lawyers and claims firms which he says should be reigned in as it encourages lawsuits.
He said flaws in existing legislation have fuelled the number of personal injury lawsuits and pushed up the fees charged by lawyers.
"Many adverts entice potential claimants with promises of an instant cheque as a non-refundable bonus once their claim is accepted - a high pressure inducement to bring a claim if ever there was one," his report argues.
A culture has developed in which businesses, the public sector and voluntary organisations "fear litigation for the smallest of accidents and manage risk in accordance with this fear," he adds.
There is no liability in existing law unless negligence can be proved, he argues, but fears that people may be implicated are "pernicious" to volunteering, he says.
His report also suggests that a "good samaritan" law may be necessary to make it clear that people will not be sued for voluntary actions - such as clearing snow from a driveway - which may inadvertently contribute to accidents.
The president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, Muiris Lyons, told the BBC that while he "broadly welcomed" Lord Young's proposed guidelines on when claims could be brought, he believed people should still be able to sue in cases of negligence by others.
He said the number of personal injury claims had fallen over the last ten years - partly due to employers taking more care because of fears of legal action.
"We would be very concerned by any steps taken in this area, that might lead to people being more injured," he said.