Untangling the terms of the Löfstedt Review

Following on from my previous blog – Hazard and risk: understanding the difference – in which I talked about the Lord Young Review, the time is about right to look at what is happening next.

Chris Grayling, employment minister for the Department for Work and Pensions, has commissioned Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, director of the King’s Centre for Risk Management at King’s College London to chair a team of six people to consider the opportunities “for reducing the burden of health and safety legislation on UK businesses while maintaining the progress made in improving health and safety outcomes” and to report by this autumn. The team will comprise politicians, business people and employee representatives.

Professor Löfstedt’s review will be supported by a small team of DWP officials and will focus primarily on the approximately 200 statutory instruments and associated approved codes of practice rather than the Health and Safety at Work (HSW) Act itself or other primary legislation.

The professor has called for evidence from a range of stakeholders including government bodies; employers’ organisations; employees’ organisations; professional health and safety bodies; and academics. They will consider:

  • The scope for consolidating, simplifying or abolishing regulations
  • Whether the requirements of EU Directives are being unnecessarily enhanced (“gold-plated”) on translation into UK law
  • If lessons can be learned from comparison with health and safety regimes in other countries
  • Whether there is a clear link between regulation and positive health and safety outcomes
  • If there is evidence of inappropriate litigation and compensation arising from health and safety legislation
  • Whether changes to legislation are needed to clarify the legal position of employers in cases where employees act in an irresponsible manner.

RoSPA is feeding ideas into the review, but it is my opinion that the professor and his colleagues will need to commit to doing a lot of homework if they are to understand fully the background to what they have been asked to do. And if they do not co-ordinate closely with other “simplification” initiatives that are underway there is a real danger of confusion.

These initiatives include a wider project by the HSE looking at how it organises its overall range of guidance, including on health and safety management, as well as another Government initiative asking the public for ideas on how to cut so-called “red tape”, including in health and safety. Logically any attempt to revise and restructure the HSE guidance lexicon should perhaps await the outcome of the Löfstedt review.

Health and safety law is important. People’s lives and health depend on it. Any review needs to be undertaken professionally and carefully, without being rushed. It needs to be strategic, evidence-based and must carefully consider previous reviews of regulation and the results of consultation on particular regulations.

In particular Professor Löfstedt, members of his panel and DWP officials will need to go back and understand in some detail the history and evolution of our system of health and safety law and guidance, as the past and present are intimately connected. Core ideas in our law and guidance system about health and safety management go back a long way – to before the Robens Committee including, for example, the report of the Joint Industrial Council on Accident Prevention of 1956! Ideas about how to regulate and manage health and safety issues have an enduring DNA.

In theory there is supposed to be a logical flow from the general duties of care in the HSW Act, through the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) to other specific hazard and sector related regulations. Guidance documents (which are what people actually read) then support all this. But, as everyone now admits, the elegance and logic that were envisioned in the 1972 Robens Report have been corrupted over time by adaptations to implement EC directives, and so on. Key duties like risk assessment, training and information are repeated at number of levels but others like monitoring and learning from incidents are weak if not missing altogether.

In terms of transparency and proportionality, health and safety law and supporting guidance needs to be focused on the “big” issues. In some hazard areas like chemicals and physical hazards, where the impact of an accident or incidence of ill health is immediate and visible, the law is well developed. However, in other areas such as those involving psychosocial risks (ergonomics, stress, violence etc. which affect millions of workers) it is still quite vague.

And, worryingly, huge areas of hazard like work-related road safety (more people are killed while at work on the road than in all other workplace accidents) are addressed only by the most generic guidance.

Arguably the balance between what is covered in regulation and what is addressed in guidance could be readjusted. On the other hand, options here have been limited. Much of the problem, in my view, has been due to our inability in the UK to use Approved Codes of Practice (ACoPs) to transpose EC directives. Robens had high hopes for ACoPs since they were intended to provide both authoritative advice and flexibility; but this vision was not shared.

On one side the TUC always thought ACoPs were too weak. The CBI on the other has always tended to view them as prescriptive regulation by the back door. And the European Commission refused to accept them as a vehicle for transposition of directives into national law anyway.

This whole debate ought to be revisited, and Professor Löfstedt’s review is the ideal time to do so.

This topic is too big and too important to squeeze into one short blog post – so stay tuned for part two. And don’t forget to join the debate – open and honest discourse on all sides is the best way to produce a national health and safety culture that the UK can be proud of.

Roger Bibbings, RoSPA’s occupational safety adviser

3 Comments to “Untangling the terms of the Löfstedt Review”

  1. Nigel,

    Thank you for your comment – I’m not sure whether or not any of the panel have health and safety qualifications. The members are:

    Chair: Professor Ragnar Löfstedt
    Advisory Panel:
    Legislature representative (Con) Andrew Bridgen MP
    Legislature representative (Lab) Andrew Miller MP
    Legislature representative (Lib Dem) To be confirmed
    Employer representative John Armitt (Olympic Delivery Authority)
    Employee representative Sarah Veale (Trades Union Congress)
    Small business representative Dr Adam Marshall (British Chambers of Commerce)

    It is hoped that they will take stock of the advice and information offered by health and safety professionals and organisations in order to come to their decision.

    Roger

  2. I do not welcome this review at all. If it was being done for the right reasons then I would support it but it just appears to be a case of Thatcherite hatchet approach to any form of state intervention and pandering to the Daily Fail. Do you know if any qualified and chartered H&S professionals will be on the Lofstedt panel?

  3. Interesting blog Roger, you raise a number of questions that mirror the concerns I raised in my own blog last week (http://www.jehealth.org/blog/lofstedt-review-answers-on-a-postcard/). The European dimension for me is the elephant in the room here, how do you fundamentally reform an area of law so dependent on supra-national framework. I’m also concerned at the narrow nature of the review, you mention road safety legislation but the omission of other areas such as fire safety misses a trick, particularly given the burden they place on business. I’ve argued long and hard for a more consistent approach to the use of ACoPs as way of standardising the approach taken, particularly for health hazards. At the very least i’d like to see the review set out some ground rules for future development of the law in this area, which has been fairly ‘organic’ to date, and clarify the role of the common law in providing compensation for injury and ill-health.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: