Health and safety 'addresses real risks'

by Morag Lyall

Health and safety is an often contested topic, with some people labelling it as being over the top, while at the same time many businesses can be stung with hefty fines.

Businesses can find themselves in court for not following health and safety laws correctly and not having the appropriate documents on file, such as risk assessments and fire risk assessments.

This week the most complex criminal inquiry that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency has worked on led to a guilty verdict for two companies involved in the 2005 explosion and fire at Buncefield Oil Storage Depot.

It was the largest fire in peacetime Europe and the firms operating the depot were found to have failed to protect workers and members of the public.

The explosion injured 43 people, destroyed homes and businesses and could be heard 125 miles away.

While this was a major case involving more than one company, the HSE can be involved in a number of cases with businesses of all shapes and sizes that fail to comply with the health and safety laws.

Yesterday (June 21st), two companies in Gloucestershire were fined a total of £39,960 after a roofing contractor fell through a skylight and suffered serious head injuries.

They were found to have failed to control the risks of working at height.

Also this week a nursing home in Essex was fined more than £11,000 for failing to check a bath thermostat before lowering an elderly man into it, resulting in him being burned.

Simple measures and proof of paperwork will help businesses protect themselves and their staff from these laws, as well as protect their health.

The government has appointed Lord Young, a former cabinet minister, to conduct a review into health and safety in order to curb the "compensation culture" that the UK has been accused of generating.

Prime minister David Cameron said: "We need a sensible new approach that makes clear these laws are intended to protect people, not overwhelm businesses with red tape."

Speaking to the BBC, Lord Young said that many of the laws are "absolute nonsense" and he will look at the application and perception of health and safety.

Included in his review will be an examination into compensation TV adverts.

"The health service paid out £8bn in five years - only one-third went to the claimants, and two-thirds went to all those other parties. Now that is really something that should be stopped," he said.

He will also consider excluding emergency workers including fire fighters and paramedics from these laws, stating that they are "paid for doing a job that involves risk" and failing to take risks could prevent them from saving lives.

Chair of the HSE Judith Hackitt supported the review.

She said in a letter to Lord Young that while the laws are concerned with "addressing real risks and preventing death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work related activities", health and safety is also being "used by too many as a convenient excuse to hide behind".

Ms Hackitt added that health and safety is often used to disguise someone's real motives, such as an unwillingness to honestly defend an unpopular decision.

However, what business owners must remember is that while there are some 'nonsense' claims that are put down to the 'nanny state' being overly protective of its inhabitants, there were 1.2 million people who worked in 2008/09 while they had an illness that they believed was caused or made worse by their workplace.

HSE statistics also revealed that 180 workers were killed at work during this period and there were 246,000 reported injuries.

Businesses can find out more about risk assessment forms and how to follow fire safety procedures with How to Health & Safety at Work from Lawpack.

By filling out risk assessment forms, which outline any possible accidents that might occur at work, business owners can save money and improve the working environment, as staff know that they are protected in the best possible way.

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Published on: June 22, 2010

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