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Trevor Sterling on Health and Safety legislation

The Prime Minister has declared that health and safety legislation has become an “albatross around the neck of British businesses”, costing billions of pounds a year.  He has vowed to “kill off the health and safety culture for good”; believing that the root cause of the issue is legal costs incurred by personal injury claims against employers. Whilst the Daily Telegraph reports on the Prime Minister’s speech to an audience of small businesses outlining the Prime Minister’s intention for the government to “roll up its sleeves” and ask what can be done to help business and our economy to provide jobs, there is a noticeable absence of any reference to those deprived of the ability to work through no fault of their own but through the negligence of their employers. The PM has apparently asked the Health and Safety Executive to bring forward its timetable for abolishing or consolidating up to half of all existing regulations without reference to the Health and Safety Executive’s data concerning the number of avoidable accidents within the workplace. The Health & Safety Executive’s statistics confirm that in 2010/2011 there were 171 workers killed at work. There were also 200,000 reportable injuries (defined as over 3 day absence) of which 24,726 were reported major injuries. Workplace injury accounted for the loss of 4.4 million working days which in itself has an obvious affect on business.  When one considers that there were 912 offences prosecuted in Great Britain by the HSE (an increase of 3% from the previous year) with a conviction rate of 85% resulting in fines totalling 18.6 million pounds and a further 294 local authority prosecutions with a 92% conviction rate of 270, it is clear that an effective way business can save millions of pounds a year is in fact to improve health and safety. It is true that statistics do not necessarily give the whole picture but when one considers that the HSE’s key findings demonstrate that in recent years the UK, insofar as fatal injuries were concerned, performed well against other large economies such as Germany, France etc. Insofar as non fatal accidents were concerned, the UK performed better than the overall EU-15 and the EU-27 rates. One can therefore only conclude that the positive advancements in health and safety legislation have proven effective. Health and safety legislation provides for a proactive approach to health and safety and not a reactive response dependent merely on judicial assessment. The focus should be on 1. Preventing accidents in the workplace, 2. Where such accidents occur focusing on achieving the best treatment outcome for those injured and 3. Providing, insofar as possible, the best quality of life for those victims who suffer life changing serious injuries. This is what we, as personal injury lawyers, aim to achieve. Health and safety legislation in this country provides safeguards designed to be proactive so as to reduce the risk of injury and has achieved this aim to some extent but there is still much to be done. The priority of government must be to prioritise the health of working individuals and not the “wealth” of businesses with less regard as to the safety of their employees. Ultimately history shows us through the Asbestos exposure deaths that Government and employers should protect “health and safety” and not promote profit over employee safety.Trevor Sterling is a partner in Personal Injury of Russell Jones & Walker and Chairman of Headway West London.If you or a member of your family has suffered an accident or injury call our expert personal injury solicitors on 0800 916 9046, fill in our short online claim form or email and one of our specialist personal injury team will review your compensation claim for free.