Health and Safety legislation has saved thousands of lives. Yet for some, it’s become synonymous with today’s compensation culture.
We’re all familiar with what seems to be a modern-day mantra of injury: No win no fee! Do you know someone, who knows someone, who once lived with someone who had an accident at work? You could be in for a payout!
Agreed, this is an exaggeration. But seemingly, with each advert break, we are bombarded by adverts almost willing us to have an accident at work, so that we can be rewarded with a windfall.
Health and safety has become big-money business. ‘Health and Safety has gone mad’ is a phrase banded about so freely that it has almost become accepted as truth, and there are countless comical classic examples to support this premise. In August 2009, the Daily Telegraph reported that the Trade Union Congress was due to propose a motion the following month that ‘High heels should be banned from the workplace’. The motion demanded that a one-inch-maximum rule be slapped on employees’ footwear.
Tabled by the all-things-foot-related Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, the motion claimed that high heels worn in the workplace could cause all number of terrible foot and leg problems, and should therefore be banished.
Interestingly, the Union mostly comprises gentlemen.
In a similar vein, a certain grey-topped tabloid couldn’t wait to report that, in the name of Health and Safety, Midlothian Council were leaving the lights switched on in a derelict school building so that if intruders were to enter, they would be less likely to do themselves a mischief because they couldn’t see where they were going.
Health and Safety continues to suffer bad press. And so, with such sensationalised, distorted and non-representational reporting, it can often seem that the purpose of Health and Safety legislation is to apportion blame and metaphorically trip up the ignorant, rather than to protect.
This is not so. For all the jovial quips about Health and Safety gone mad, there remains the very real fact that there is still a lot of room for improvement. The Health and Safety at Work Act was introduced in 1974, at a time when an average of 651 people a year suffered a work-related death. In the year 2007 – 2008, this figure sat at 228. The lowest figure for deaths since the Act was passed was between 2005 – 2006, a year when there were 217 deaths. The figure seems to have reached a plateau since.
Health and Safety can be a minefield for an employer, whether they employ five people or five hundred, in any sector, from conveyancing to construction. But Health and Safety legislation really isn’t put in place to appoint blame, and the Government actively promotes guidelines which, if followed properly, will actually benefit business. Guidelines from the Government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) aim to reduce the amount of time and money lost through absences and sick leave; boost company productivity and profits; increase staff retention as well as reducing insurance premiums and legal costs.
A useful step-by-step guide of what an employer must do can be found on the HSE website which lists everything from the ratio of toilet cubicles to employees necessary, to the importance of Employer’s Liability Compulsory Insurance.
The further understanding and training achieved in the Health and Safety area, the more lives that will be saved. Oh, but be warned, you probably won’t read about this in the tabloids, because it wouldn’t make a very juicy story.