Compensation culture and the health and safety myth

It has been blamed for so-called ‘compensation culture’ and it has been blamed for red tape. It’s been blamed for risk-aversion and many other societal ills. What am I talking about? Health and Safety.

To hear some people talk, health and safety in the workplace is a bad thing. The Sun today describes a “Scandal of 52 new ‘elf and safety bods” (yes, they have to write the headline in Mockney so that the wurkahs can understand what they’re saying).  What on earth are they talking about? The opening paragraph puts the boot in straightaway. I mean, why wait?

HEALTH and safety chiefs are ignoring a government hiring ban by taking on a new army of clipboard killjoys.

Ah, they’re “killjoys” who are there to spoil our fun. But who says work is ‘fun’? The Scum continues

A staggering 52 new “specialist inspectors” is being taken on by the Health and Safety Executive.

On jumbo salaries up to £72,000 a year each, they are being hired to stick their noses into British engineering firms.

Of course The Scum doesn’t ask the question ‘why’, instead it goes into splenetic mode at full throttle.

It also comes as PM David Cameron ordered a review into Britain’s excessive health and safety culture.

Engineering firms like gas plants or oil rigs will also have to share the bill with taxpayers for the new inspectors, which could top £4million.

Blimey! You mean gas plants and oil rigs will now have more inspections? How dare they impose their safety standards on industries who would try and get away with serious breaches of health and safety regulations if they could? How dare they?!! The Scum even try to claim that this ‘burden’ will be placed on the taxpayer. That’s pretty low.

Naturally an article like this wouldn’t be complete without the customary comment from someone claiming to represent taxpayers.

TaxPayers Alliance chief executive Matthew Elliott said: “It’s unbelievable the Government is throwing so much taxpayers’ cash at hiring more busybodies to tell us how to live our lives, especially when the Government is making spending cuts everywhere else.”

First they’re “killjoys” and now the HSE are “busybodies”. Is there no one to defend the work of the HSE? Well, given the blame culture that has become a feature of life in Britain, it is unlikely that anyone will defend the HSE apart, of course, from the HSE itself. When health and safety is mentioned, some people – like Kelvin MacKenzie –  fly into a rage, slam their fist on the table and spray the person they’re talking to with spittle.

Liam Mullone is a comedian and obituary writer for The Times (The Scum’s stablemate) whose act revolves around Health and Safety (it is rather funny by the way). In a defence of libertarianism and Doug Stanhope, he can’t resist mentioning his bête noir – I had prepared a response to his points but never sent it to Chortle. But Mullone has accepted the notion that health and safety is bad for you.

But even moderate libertarianism is a world before health and safety. For every bit of not sucking the lifeblood out of people, there is a large chunk of allowing idiots to blow themselves up, smoke themselves to death and dance in unlicensed venues. Banks would have been left to collapse, along with the Millennium Bridge and Cherie Blair’s face, without our money to support them.

So you see, Health and Safety gets in the way of our er, ‘freedoms’. This soi-disant libertarian’s blog follows a similar theme. But in his haste to formulate a judgement he missed the paragraph at the end of the Telegraph article that he cited,

Residents have now begun complying with the rules and can apply for an Executive grant of £15,200 to install ultraviolet bacterial cleaning systems, which should be operational within the next fortnight.

The tabloids are full of stories about Health and Safety. Here’s one from the Daily Mail; the headline screams,

Health and safety killjoys force Santa to wear a seatbelt in his 5mph sleigh

But then they admit that

The local rotary club has been forced to fit a belt to the sleigh he uses there – or face a £200 increase in its insurance premiums.

So it’s all about insurance premiums and has nothing to do with the Health & Safety at Work Act (1974)? Well, blow me down!

Once upon a time, risk management was the business of the financial sector. Nowadays, risk management is found, along with pointless number-crunching, in every sector of economic activity. But why is this? Is it because of  genuine health and safety concerns or does it because of something else? Insurance premiums have risen as a consequence of the upsurge in law suits issued against businesses and local authorities for alleged negligence. In the last 15 years we have witnessed an increase in the number of law firms that offer to represent people on a ‘No win no fee’ basis. The adverts tell you how much money you can get for doing absolutely nothing at all.

These ambulance-chasing solicitors will use the Health & Safety Act to pursue their case in court; but it is not the fault of the law; it is the fault of unscrupulous law firms and greedy clients that have created this situation. Blame health and safety all you like but try to apportion some of this blame where it’s due: law firms like ClaimsDirect or the National Accident Helpline. It is because of them that we now live in a world where ‘if there’s blame there’s a claim’.

Finally, we have been told by politicians that we live in a ‘compensation culture’ but how true is this? If someone has been negligent then surely it is the right of the victim to seek redress…no? While I will admit that there is over-concern about risk management, this is because of insurance costs and not the law itself; the law is used by insurance companies and legal firms alike to either exploit loopholes or to hide behind every letter of it. Compensation culture is a myth.

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