UK Politics

Cameron backs proposed health and safety law reforms

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Media captionLord Young on 'common sense' for health and safety

Prime Minister David Cameron has backed proposed reforms to safety laws - including forcing councils to pay compensation for wrongly cancelling events on health and safety grounds.

The reforms, in a report by Lord Young, also include a crackdown on personal injury ads and cuts to red tape.

Mr Cameron hailed the report as a "turning point".

But the unions said it was a missed opportunity to prevent death and injury at work and was based on "myths".

The government has accepted all of the recommendations in Lord Young's report Common Sense, Common Safety.

These include:

  • A simplified procedure for personal injury claims and controls on the "volume and type" of advertising of such services
  • A "common sense" approach to educational trips, with a single consent form covering all activities a child might undertake
  • Consultants who carry out workplace safety assessments to be professionally qualified and registered on an online database

Council officials who ban events on health and safety grounds should put their reasons in writing, Lord Young says, and citizens should have a "route for redress" if they want to challenge officials' decisions.

'Senseless rules'

They should be able to refer "unfair" decisions to the local government 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," the report adds, saying that further legislation may be required to strengthen the ombudsman's role.

Lord Young, who served as trade and industry secretary under Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, claimed there was "widespread" abuse of health and safety laws, adding: "What is sensible for dangerous occupations has been spread over the rest of life."

And he said his report, which only dealt with "non-hazardous occupations," such as office-workers or teachers, would "get rid of a great deal of bureaucracy".

"The only protection we all have is using our eyes, and using our common sense, filling in a form doesn't change anything," he told the BBC News Channel.

On the "compensation culture", he said that, as a former solicitor, he was "ashamed" by some of the TV advertising he saw for personal injury lawyers, arguing that there needed to be a "sensible balance, to enable people to get access to justice but not, as we are getting today, incitement to litigate, because people are being paid to bring claims".

Writing in the report's foreword, David Cameron said: "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.

"We simply cannot go on like this".

'Grave disappointment'

He vowed to "put a stop to the senseless rules that get in the way of volunteering, stop adults from helping out with other people's children and penalise our police and fire services for acts of bravery".

Instead, he said the government would "focus regulations where they are most needed; with a new system that is proportionate, not bureaucratic; that treats adults like adults and reinstates some common sense and trust".

He said Lord Young had agreed to stay on as his adviser on health and safety laws, who would work with departments across government to put his proposals into action.

The report was welcomed by business groups.

Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy and external affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "Lord Young's recommendations are both sensible and long overdue.

"Businesses have long said that health and safety rules cannot be applied to hazardous environments and offices in the same way - and that there are too many burdens involved in allowing employees to work from home."

but trade unions reacted with anger to the report, with the TUC calling it a "grave disappointment".

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "This report is a missed opportunity to improve the UK's workplace safety record and by failing to challenge the myths around health and safety it could actually make things much worse."

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