The launch of the HSE Myth Buster Challenge Panel and the seemingly limitless appetite for media interest in “elf and safety gone mad” stories continues to generate stories of decisions that are very hard to reconcile with the real purpose of health and safety law. Most recently we have witnessed health and safety regulations being blamed for refusal to provide an airline passenger with a blanket (the same blanket that could be bought for £5, quite why the exchange of money made the blanket safer will be beyond most of us), umbrellas banned at an outdoor concert and an apparent ban on a nursery owner taking children to an allotment.
Hopefully being “outed” in such a public way will make some organisations think twice about using health and safety as the scapegoat for unpopular decisions. Such stories continue to generate the impression that the law is not doing its job and undermine some of the very important improvements that have come about from this area of the law.
Perhaps one of the most striking examples is the significant change to health and safety practice in the high risk offshore industry following the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988. In a recent press release the HSE confirmed that although this year sadly saw the first offshore fatalities since 2007 overall there was a reduction in the number of injuries from 152 per 100,000 workers in 2010/2011 to 131 per 100,000 workers in 2011/2012. Despite some high profile incidents involving oil or gas leaks the number of such incidents that could cause major incidents has also continued to fall.
In the construction industry fatal injuries have reduced by two thirds compared with 20 years ago and non-fatal injuries have fallen by over a third since 2007/2008.
Looking at the bigger picture across all industries since the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 came into force we have seen fatal injuries to employees fall by 82% and non-fatal injuries to employees fall by 76%.
Sadly the good news stories continue to pass by unnoticed in favour of the headline grabbing stories of ordinary activities being banned and the clamour to do away with health and safety laws that have the capacity to save lives continues. There are undoubtedly interesting times ahead for health and safety law but we can only hope that they will be moves towards achieving a sensible balance and will not come at the cost of continued improvement in the accident statistics.