Review needs to allay the myths

Tom Jones says the Lord Young review of health and safety should recommend a public information campaign, not a weakening of laws that protect workers.

Lord Young of Graffham, Margaret Thatcher’s former adviser, has been entrusted by David Cameron to review health and safety laws.

We knew from the Tory election manifesto that Cameron was planning X-factor style public nominations of regulations to repeal and ways to free employers from “intrusive visits from officials checking whether they are complying with regulations”.

So the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg launched his Your Freedom website for the public to suggest laws to scrap. Predictably, many of the thousands who posted said amend trade union laws to curb their ability to go on strike and scrap health and safety laws that protect workers.

Meanwhile Lord Young suggested that emergency service workers should be excluded from health and safety laws because they are “paid for doing a job that involves risk”.

Lord Young’s official brief was to “investigate and report back to the Prime Minister on the rise of the compensation culture over the last decade coupled with the current low standing that health and safety legislation now enjoys and to suggest solutions.”

Thompsons has sent Lord Young evidence showing that all the reports and all the statistics prove there is no compensation culture. There may be a tabloid driven perception of compensation culture but removing protection for firefighters, paramedics and other emergency service workers is a dangerous sledgehammer to crack tabloid myths however persistent they are.


Lord Young has been widely quoted pointing out the absurdity of the many stories that abound – from toothpicks being unavailable in restaurants to pancake racers having to walk in wet weather. We have taken Lord Young at face value and assume that, rather than seeking to perpetuate the myths, he is highlighting what are, in anyone’s eyes, clearly misinterpretations of the law.

“Elf and safety” hasn’t “gone mad”. Myths are being exploited or indeed, on occasions, made up by the media to maintain a favourite theme. In the process, they attribute rules and powers to health and safety that are completely false. It is a monster of their own making.

The Your Freedom website further encourages the hysteria about health and safety. People are hijacking it to nominate laws for repeal that simply don’t exist.

In 2008, the Conservative shadow work and pensions minister Andrew Selous said that health and safety was “the bottom line” and “traditionally had cross-party support” and The Health and Safety (Offences) Bill 2007 did indeed get all party support in order to become law.

So we have asked Lord Young what has changed. Why does the coalition think that health and safety laws are in “low standing” when they weren’t in 2007 and weren’t in 2008?

Between April 2009 and March 2010, 151 people were killed at work. Thousands were injured in work-related accidents. That is the reality for working people and statistics show that most then don’t make a claim.

Adequate enforcement

The key is adequate enforcement of health and safety legislation. We have too few inspectors and too few prosecutions of employers and that leads to thousands of people continuing to be injured and killed at work.

We have told Lord Young that if his review intends to look at real personal injury claims – ones that result in formal claims for compensation recorded by the Government’s Compensation Recovery Unit (as all claims must be) rather than the tabloid myths – then he will see that compensation claims for people injured at and out of work are falling consistently.

Claims down 64 per cent

The CRU’s figures show that workplace accident and disease claims have dropped by 64 per cent since 2000.

We suggest it isn’t acceptable to put emergency and other workers’ lives at risk through the watering down of health and safety legislation simply to deal with a false perception about the law.

Rather than reducing the protection that health and safety legislation provides, the government should initiate a public information campaign using the Health and Safety Executive’s “myth of the month” posters at

National and regional newspaper adverts, films on YouTube and social networking sites should:

  1. Reassure the public that there is no compensation culture and no need to fear health and safety regulations. 
  2. Explain what the regulations really say and how they protect people. 
  3. Set out what people’s rights to sue for compensation actually are.

Lord Young is due to report his conclusions to the prime minister in September this year.