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‘Complete and utter Maudeness’ – Minister creates havoc at home with lethal ‘advice’ on fuel storage.

'Complete and utter Maudeness' - Minister creates havoc at home with lethal 'advice' on fuel storage.

The Telegraph

Before we vilify Francis Maude for truly mind-bogglingly staggering ineptitude, we should consider his pronouncement within the context of the government’s cavalier approach to health & safety legislation in the UK.

Firstly we had Lord Young of Gaffem’s report ‘Common Sense Common Safety’, wherein the noble peer delivered what was expected of him and proferred the idea that we could dispense with much of the UK’s current health & safety regulations.

David Cameron fell on the report like a hungry wolf spying the fatted calf and immediately announced a raft of cut backs and claw backs as he began the process of dismantling 178 years of hard fought progress in worker and public safety in this country.

So far, so bad.

The primary justification for this rush to deregulate is the much-vaunted yet fatally flawed theory that less onerous health & safety regulation means more profit for business.

Then we had Professor Ragnar Lofstedt’s report ‘Reclaiming Health & Safety For All’. Professor Lofstedt has clearly stated that he is not in favour of ‘radical’ reform, apparently contrary to prime minister David Cameron’s attack on the ‘monster’ of health and safety.

The PM referenced Lofstedt’s report from December as he blamed the ‘albatross’ of health and safety legislation for holding back British businesses but the King’s College academic, insisted he had never called for significant changes to legal policy and did not believe in a compensation culture.

When asked if he was worried his report could be hijacked for political purposes, he said: ‘I am concerned about it. I am concerned my review could be misused.’

So bad, so far…

‘The scores on the doors’ : Reports delivered – 2. ‘Common Sense’ health & safety strategy in the UK – 0.

The second assumption underpinning the current madness is the notion that most day to day activities and even most workplaces are intrinsically safe and thus we only require a light touch on the regulation tiller to ensure our safety as we go about our daily lives…

and this is where Francis Maude comes in.

MINISTER CREATES HAVOC AT HOME WITH LETHAL ADVICE ON FUEL STORAGE AS WOMAN SUFFERS 40% BURNS IN JERRY CAN FIRE.

Fire officers have warned the public not to store petrol in their home after a woman suffered 40 per cent burns in a fire started by petrol she was transferring between containers, following advice from government minister Francis Maude that motorists should consider storing fuel in anticipation of a tanker drivers’ strike.

The victim, 46-year-old Diane Hill, was badly injured after her clothes caught fire while decanting the fuel from one container into another at her home on York. A fire service spokesman said:

‘She was using her cooker at the same time as pouring petrol from one container to another using a jug after her daughter had asked for some petrol.’

The mother-of-two, from the Acomb area of York, was taken to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, Yorks while two firefighters wearing breathing equipment dealt with the aftermath.

At the time of writing no apology has been received from Mr Maude…but the real bad news is that he probably doesn’t know what he and his government should be apologising for.  

2012 is ‘The Year of Living Dangerously’…if you live or work in Britain.

2012  is 'The Year of Living Dangerously'...if you live or work in Britain.

Photo:The Telegraph

The Mayans predicted 21st December 2012 as the end of days.

January 5th, 2012 comes a close second as David Cameron picked this day to get a head start on the Mayans and launch his government’s ‘Year of Living Dangerously’  – for you and me, that is.

Let us review recent events…because this government seems determined to keep reviewing health and safety legislation until it gets the answer it wants…

 

In October 2010, Lord Young’s report – ‘Common Sense, Common Safety’ stated on page 19 that:

‘Britain’s compensation culture is fuelled by media stories about individuals receiving large compensation pay outs for personal injury claims.

The problem of the compensation culture prevalent in society today is, however, one of perception rather than reality.’

Lord Young’s report was welcomed by the government.

 

In November 2011, Professor Ragnar Lofstedt concluded in his report – ‘Reclaiming health and safety for all. An independent review of health and safety legislation’ that: 

‘In general, there is no need for radically altering current health and safety legislation.‘ 

He went on to say that he wanted businesses to :

‘reclaim ownership of the management of health and safety and see it as a vital part of their operation rather than an unnecessary and bureaucratic paperwork exercise.’

Professor Lofstedt’s report was welcomed by the government. 

 

However, on 5th January 2012, the Prime Minister stood the core findings of these reports on their heads and launched a vitriolic assault on accident victims and their legal representatives as he endeavoured to sell the British public the idea that health and safety legislation is bad for business. 

He pledged to ‘slay the health and safety monster.’

He vowed to make 2012 the year we ‘kill off the health and safety culture for good.’

He fumed that ‘health and safety legislation has been an albatross around the neck of British business.’

He promised that ‘our plan will deter the speculative health and safety chancers who leech off good businesses.’   

Either he hasn’t read these reports;commissioned by his own government, or he has chosen to ignore their findings and twist their conclusions to suit his own agenda, which is quite remarkably in tune with the agenda promoted by the Association of British Insurers.

The ABI has been invited to a Number 10 ‘summit’ to discuss how to dismantle 178 years of progress in health and safety regulation designed to protect British workers and the British public.

Quite apart from the appallingly injudicious language employed by the PM and his tabloid-toadying populist sound bites, his policy makes no commercial sense whatsoever.    

Here’s the counter argument as proposed by a senior US government official, which we highlighted in our blog of 16th February last year…

David Michaels, Assistant Secretary for Labor in the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration had a lot to say on the subject of health and safety regulation and jobs:

‘Despite concerns about the effect of regulation on American business, there is clear evidence that OSHA’s common sense regulations have made working conditions in this country far safer than 40 year’s ago when this agency was created, while at the same time protecting American jobs.

 

The truth is that OSHA standards don’t kill jobs. They stop jobs from killing workers.

OSHA standards don’t just prevent worker injuries and illnesses, they also drive technological innovation, making industry more competitive.’

 

Despite the weight of evidence proving that robust health and safety legislation actually improves the health of the economy, the government is hell-bent on making its point in 2012.

 

Let’s hope that someone in the cabinet has enough spirit and common sense to speak up for our well-being before we revert back to the worst excesses of rogue factory owners and ‘laissez-faire’ employee exploitation that treated worker safety as an impediment to profit.

Lord Young of ‘Gaffem’ back in favour at Number 10

Good news and bad news for worker safety in the UK

Bad news: Lord Young is back

Good news: there is no good news, well not much anyway… 

Getty Images

‘Never had it so good’ peer Lord Young of Graffam returned to Downing Street last week on Prime Minister’s Mates’ Service or PIMMS… 

His mission, having chosen to accept it, is to help businesses thrive by ridding them of red tape and stifling health and safety regulations.

Thus a fundamentally flawed premise is enshrined in the noble Lord’s brief – Health & Safety costs money and costs jobs.   

In stark contrast to the UK’s government’s stance on health and safety in the workplace, David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), said on 15th February this year:

‘Despite concerns about the effect of regulation on American business, there is clear evidence that OSHA’s commonsense regulations have made working conditions in this country today far safer than 40 years ago when the agency was created, while at the same time protecting American jobs.’

Unfazed by the irony in resurrecting Lord Young’s career in the run up to Halloween, Number 10 officials have set up a new office for the 79-year-old peer who will spearhead a new push to remove barriers to growth for small and medium size companies.

His focus will be on working to ensure businesses are not stifled by regulation and he will look closely at the way health and safety rules impact on firms.

No agenda there then?

Last year his report Common sense, Common Safety, was welcomed by Mr. Cameron who has asked the Conservative peer to cut through the rule book and see where ministers can help businesses.

Unfortunately neither Mr. Cameron, the insurance industry lobby nor the bulk of commentators who regularly line up to vilify accident victims actually noticed that Lord Young didn’t agree with them…

For the record, this is what he said on page 19 of ‘Common Sense, Common Safety’:

Britain’s ‘compensation culture’ is fuelled by media stories about individuals receiving large compensation payouts for personal injury claims…

The problem of the compensation culture prevalent in society today is, however, one of perception rather than reality…

The public believes that the number of claims and the amount paid out in damages have also risen significantly.

The really unfortunate thing however is that Lord Young singularly failed to get this ‘common sense’ message across.

He wrote that the compensation culture is more myth than reality yet he remained mute and supine on the core issue when the report’s findings were made public. Perhaps this is why he is so suited to the task of fixing the non-problem of the ‘burden’ of Health & Safety legislation? 

Last November Lord Young of Gaffem pronounced:

For the vast majority of people in the country today, they have never had it so good ever since this recession – this so-called recession – started…”

We await with baited breath, his magisterial musings on the tiresome burden imposed by laws designed to keep people safe and well at work in the UK.

However, Mr. Cameron has clearly decided Lord Young has served his time and will welcome him back…just when we thought he had gone for good last October…  

 So farewell then Lord Young of Gaffem. 

 You resigned after you made a gaffe.

 You claimed that most people had ‘never had it so good.’ 

 Unfortunately this just isn’t true,

 Like much of your ‘Common Sense Common Safety’ review.

 Adieu.

But not so fast, the prodigal returns.

Expect many more workplace cuts, crushes, crashes and burns.  

Hidden scandal of UK businesses who fail to pay for Employers’ Liability Insurance

The former landlords of a Lancashire pub were finally convicted last week after they failed to buy insurance to protect their employees. Stephen and Karen Martin were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after they employed staff at the Hinds Head pub in Charnock Richard without purchasing the legally required Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance.

 

As the pair did not buy any insurance, they had no means of paying their employees any compensation they could be awarded in the event of them falling ill or suffering an injury at work. Despite being warned by HSE inspectors on several occasions between September 2010 and February 2011, the couple failed to address the issue.

 

Speaking after the hearing, HSE investigating inspector Shellie Bee said:

 

‘Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance is a legal requirement and not an optional extra. Because Stephen and Karen Martin cut corners to save money, they were putting their employees in a position where they could have potentially suffered a life changing illness or injury at work and had no recourse to any kind of compensation. Despite being given ample opportunity to correct this problem over a period of months, they chose to ignore the advice they were given by HSE so we had no choice but to prosecute.’

 

In the current economic climate the temptation for businesses to save money by cutting back on worker safety is a worrying trend and one which we feel must be strongly guarded against.

 

Instead of berating hurt and injured people for having the temerity to claim compensation for accidents at work, the government should focus on the hidden scandal of rogue businesses, large and small, that fail in their legal duty to pay for Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance – the clue, after all is in the title.

 

The UK media is quick to highlight fraudlent accident compensation claims and the mythical ‘compensation culture’  but rather less enthusisatic to turn the spotlight on law-breaking companies…

 

Bonnar & Company is preparing a dossier on this issue and we would welcome your thoughts.

Marks & Spencer fined £1 million over asbestos risk

High Street giants Marks & Spencer suffered a spectacular fall from grace on Tuesday when the company was fined £1 million for putting customers and staff at risk of exposure to asbestos in its Reading store.

The company was also ordered to pay costs of £600,000 at the sentencing hearing at Bournemouth Crown Court. Contractors working on the refurbishment of the Broad Street store were also handed fines of £100,000 and £50,000 for breaches of Health & Safety Regulations.  

Despite government pronouncements that retail environments are inherently safe and that industry needs only a ‘light touch’ approach when assessing risks to health and safety, these serious shortcomings on the part of a highly respected UK business suggest that the opposite is true.

If a household name like Marks & Spencer can fall foul of health & safety legislation we should be very concerned about lapses in standards across the country, especially in the current economic climate when the temptation exists to save money by cutting corners on worker and public safety.

Construction workers continue to be at high risk of serious injury or death and we echo the comments made by Richard Boland, the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) Southern head of operations for construction who said:

“This outcome should act as a wake up call that any refurbishment programmes involving asbestos-containing materials must be properly resourced, both in terms of time and money – no matter what.”

Bonnar & Company Solicitors specialises in accident and work and industrial disease compensation claims. Call us free on 0800 163 978 for impartial expert legal advice.