The long-awaited review by Lord Young of Graffham has been published, and it appears to have been welcomed by a number of sectors, including the HSE. There was a particular emphasis on the term “compensation culture”, which Lord Young considered was “at the heart of problems which so beset health and safety today.” The fear of litigation was said to impact not only on the workplace, but in every walk of life, with schools, everyday sports and voluntary work sectors noted to have been hit by the concern of litigation. Whilst Lord Young endorsed the recovery of fair compensation for genuine claimants, he has highlighted the problem with the belief that people could “absolve themselves from any personal responsibility for their actions….or that compensation should be a cash cow for lawyers and referral agencies.”

There is an emphasis on smaller and medium sized businesses being freed from unnecessary bureaucracy and the return of a “common sense” approach. A summary of some of the recommendations is as follows:

  • Simplify the risk assessment process for low hazard workplaces, with simpler interactive tools produced by the HSE together with periodic checklists for low hazard environments, to also be made available on the HSE’s website  
  • Health and Safety consultants to be accredited to professional bodies with a directory of accredited experts  
  • HSE to develop clear, separate guidance for small and medium sized businesses in lower risk activities, with the current raft of health and safety legislation consolidated to a single set of regulations  
  • In terms of the larger businesses, consultation to take place to enhance the HSE’s role in the large multi-site retail business sector  
  • The period of time off following an injury before a requirement to report under RIDDOR arises to be extended to seven days.  

Judith Hackitt, Chair of the HSE, stated “Lord Young’s report is an important milestone on the road to recovery for the reputation of real health and safety. HSE welcomes it and will be actively pursuing those recommendations within our remit.” The enthusiasm was not exaggerated, since two of the recommendations have already been implemented by the HSE, with a new ‘20 minute’ risk assessment tool for low risk offices launched on their website (this can be found at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/office.htm ) and a new national register for health and safety consultants to go live in January 2011. The Occupational Safety Consultants Register will provide details of consultants with the highest qualification standard of recognised professional bodies and who are bound by a code of conduct to give sensible and proportionate advice.

Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the review, and said “Good health and safety is vitally important. But all too often, good, straightforward legislation designed to protect people from major hazards has been extended inappropriately to cover every walk of life, no matter how low risk.”

However, the Review has not been met with a warm reception throughout. The TUC described the report as a “grave disappointment” with too much emphasis on the “compensation culture which the Government accept does not exist” and no proposals which would address the number of workplace incidents and fatalities in the UK.

Whether or not the full impact of the Report will lead to change in the perception of health and safety, only time will tell. Given Lord Young’s recent resignation as a Government advisor, many business groups fear change may be stalled.