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APIL and the HSE champion 40-year-old Health and Safety at Work Act

System which has 'saved thousands of lives' under threat from government reform

4 August 2014

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On the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA), the chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) believes that the legislation remains fit for purpose.

Writing in her HSE blog, Judith Hackitt comments: "Many people have already noted the importance and significance of HSWA and its remarkable resilience. It remains fit for purpose today, despite the massive changes which have taken place in the world of work, proving its applicability and adaptability to any workplace."

She continues: "Great Britain has arguably the best health and safety system in the world. Of course, we all want to prevent even more deaths and serious injuries every year but many other parts of the world have death and injury rates many times higher than ours and are increasingly eager to learn about what makes our system so effective."

Concluding, Hackitt writes: "The Act and the system it put in place have saved literally thousands of lives in all sorts of workplaces over the last 40 years. My wish for the Act's 40th birthday would be that critics stop maligning a very smart, world class system and that jobsworths find a new excuse for their unhelpfulness. Better still, try being helpful instead - it doesn't cost anything and you just might find that life is a bit more pleasant when you let people get on with their lives rather than getting in their way."

Keeping workers safe

As the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow closed last weekend, John Spencer, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) believes that the UK's health and safety culture should be celebrated: "Construction of Glasgow's new Commonwealth Arena and the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome succeeded without a fatality, which reminds us that there is a commitment in the UK to keeping workers safe which we should be very proud of.

"Tragedies like those during construction of the World Cup venues in Brazil and Qatar, and during preparations for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, should never happen under Britain's health and safety policies."

Spencer continues: "Others should learn lessons on how to safeguard their workers. Construction is a notoriously dangerous industry, but thankfully here we have protection in place to reduce the risk of people dying, being injured, or becoming ill as a result of going to work."

"For the first time in Olympic history, all construction projects for London 2012 were completed without a fatality. Far from being pointless regulation, as it is sometimes perceived to be, health and safety is necessary protection to stop employers taking risks. It should be celebrated," he adds.

'Elf and safety'

Spencer's message comes as the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, has recently vowed to "slay health and safety culture" and that employees who do "something dumb" and hurt themselves at work will no longer be awarded damages if their bosses have taken sensible steps to keep staff safe.

The proposed Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill or 'SARAH' was recently described by Grayling as "a signpost from parliament to the courts. It will set out very simple protections for those people who act in the interests of society, responsibly or heroically".

APIL's vice president, Jonathan Wheeler, has previously expressed reservations about SARAH, believing that it sends a worrying message about the importance of health and safety. "Once again we see the emphasis on protecting the negligent rather than the person who has been injured through no fault of his own," he said.

For more SJ coverage on health and safety issues, click here.

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Health & Safety