Myth Busting! The Real Deal Of Health and Safety Laws.
If you ever want a cheap and easy headline, drop in the phrase “health and safety red tape” or “compensation culture”; these phrases sell. They sell news stories – whatever media you’re working in – and they sell votes. Politicians love them just as much as journalists do. It’s in their interests to complain about both aspects of this politically correct world gone mad. Of course, for those who don’t rely on spin and sound-bites for a living, then both health and safety and/or the compensation culture are not as bad as you might think. Let’s do a bit of myth busting.
Starting with the hysteria surrounding compensation culture first; English Law is largely based on the Anglo-Saxon variety. That was based on compensation; you killed someone you paid the price, in hard cash. Every crime had a price and, by and large, that price came in the form of cash. The compensation culture is a part of our history as much as the Norman Conquest; it’s just one that journalists and politicians would prefer we kept quiet about. As for Health and Safety laws; it’s all just red tape isn’t it? Let’s look at the UK’s most dangerous industry; construction. Fatalities in this industry have radically dropped over the last thirty years as the ‘stranglehold’ of Health and Safety has taken its toll. These days, although still one of our more lethal industries, working in the construction industry is considerably safer than it has ever been in the UK and that is largely due to strengthened safety laws and the commitment of those within the industry.
What’s the real issue?
So what is behind the apparent disregard for our long history of compensation and our short history of safety in the work place? It’s hard not to get a bit political here and I’m certainly holding back on that front. To be fair to the current government it’s faced with a difficult task; the country is desperate straits. The economy is, at best, stagnant and could be described as dead in the water. Attempts to revitalise the UK’s export industry are being hampered by the increasingly strong pound compared to the euro. The other areas of the economy that the government is desperately trying to stimulate, is the small business sector and, above all, the construction industry. Unfortunately, politicians are all too keen to see Health and Safety as a bar to businesses and for that reason start rolling out the complaints about red tape and compensation.
Earlier this month the HSE announced that among fourteen other cuts the “Tower Crane Register” was to be scrapped on the grounds that it is of “no direct health and safety benefits”. The register has only been in place for two years – after a campaign in the wake of the death of two crane workers in the Battersea crane accident. For the families of those victims it’s true that the regulation came too late. The fact that Health and Safety regulations are often seen as nothing other than ‘more’ paperwork for Site Managers and foremen hides an important issue; it’s better to have the paperwork than the accident and/or the fatality that may well replace it. In addition the fact that small (and yet potentially lethal) situations can be overlooked if you don’t have to check them should be a concern to everyone working in construction. Lack of Health and Safety regulations won’t make liability, compensation or the occasional fatality go away; less paperwork does not mean lesser accidents (possibly the opposite). For construction site managers less paperwork will demand far more vigilance if they are to ensure the progress made in safety in the construction industry is maintained and for construction firms ensuring that adequate SMSTS is in place will be more important than ever.
While it’s easy to hide behind arguments about red tape and compensation culture if you’re a politician or a journalist, with lives at stake in Britain’s most deadly industry can site managers and construction firms afford to be without comprehensive SMSTS?