David Cameron moves to tackle 'stranglehold' of health and safety bureaucracy amid accusations he is 'out of touch'

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The prime minister David Cameron has launched an attack on the “stranglehold” of bureaucracy around health and safety rules on UK employers, but unions claim he is "out of touch with reality".

Speaking to an audience of small businesses and entrepreneurs at Intuit UK in Maidenhead, he also said tackling the compensation culture will be part of a series of measures announced to back enterprise.

He announced the health and safety law on strict liability for civil claims will be changed so that businesses are no longer automatically at fault if something goes wrong. He said the Government will investigate the demands made by insurance companies on businesses to ensure that levels of compliance do not force businesses to go far beyond what is actually required by the the law to secure their insurance cover.

It will write to the chief executives of all major insurance companies, asking them to set out what they will do to deal with this problem - and they will be invited to a meeting at Downing Street next month to set out their plans.

He also announced that to tackle the compensation culture and address the fear from businesses of being sued for trivial or excessive claims - the Government will extend the current scheme that caps the amount that lawyers can earn from small value personal injury claims, and reduce overall costs in cases funded by 'no win no fee' deals. This will help bring down the cost of many cases and deter the speculative health and safety claims made against good businesses that would appear not to have done anything wrong.

Cameron said: "I am determined that we do everything possible to take the brakes off business: cutting taxes; slashing red tape; putting billions into big infrastructure projects; making it much easier for British firms to get out there and trade with the world.

"And there is something else we are doing: waging war against the excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses.

"Talk of 'health and safety' can too often sound farcical or marginal. But for British businesses - especially the smaller ones that are so vital to the future of our economy - this is a massively important issue. Every day they battle against a tide of risk assessment forms and face the fear of being sued for massive sums. The financial cost of this culture runs into the billions each year.

"So this coalition has a clear New Year's resolution: to kill off the health and safety culture for good. I want 2012 to go down in history not just as Olympics year or Diamond Jubilee year, but the year we get a lot of this pointless time-wasting out of the British economy and British life once and for all."

But dismissing Downing Street claims that UK businesses are in a 'stranglehold' of health and safety 'red tape' and compensation claims, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "This shows just how out of touch with the reality of working life Number 10 is. Every government report on the UK's supposed compensation culture has shown it to be a myth, and in fact claims have been declining over the past decade. Despite this the government seems hell-bent on trying to stop workers injured by their employers' negligence being able to claim compensation.

"Workers will be astonished by the claim that there is an 'excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses'. The truth is that there are two million people in the UK who have an illness or injury caused by their work - the vast majority of which could have been prevented had their employer had taken the correct safety precautions.

"Nor do businesses 'battle against a tide of risk assessment forms every year'. The vast majority of employers never carry out any kind of written risk assessments, and for those that do, there is easy-to-understand advice available from the Health and Safety Executive on how to do them.

'It is clear that Downing Street does not have a clue about what life is like for the millions of ordinary people who work in shops, offices, schools, factories, call centres and other workplaces across the UK. Instead it is making policy in response to grumbles from elements of the small business lobby and the risible rantings of right-wing commentators.

A spokesman from Families Against Corporate Killers, added: "David Cameron's speech today is extraordinary, completely fact-free, ignores the findings of the Lofstedt Review, is based in fantasy and has no connection with the workplaces that killed people we love and which we know are common across the UK.

"Their employers were so unburdened and unstrangled by health and safety laws, they felt no compunction to be aware of, or comply with, their legal obligations and failed to carry out useful risk assessments at all, and then for example, ordered workers to decant petrol in front of open flames, to bale sealed aerosol containers, to work at height with incorrectly erected scaffolding and no safety equipment, to allow heavy barriers to be left unrestrained, not to use safety equipment to lock off live wires.

"Far from there being Cameron's imagined workplaces where employers live in fear of the demands of health and safety, our personal experience, and that of the many hundreds of workplace deaths of which we are aware, is the opposite. Without regulation, a credible fear of enforcement action for non-compliance plus deterrent penalties, many employers regularly expose workers to appalling levels of risk and so they kill our sons and daughters, our husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, mums and dads.

 

"Cameron calls health and safety culture a monster, a burden on employers, but the real monster, the elephant in the room which he refuses to see is the huge burden of over £30 billion a year that employers' failure to protect workers' health and safety costs the whole of society every year! He tilts against the windmills of 'compensation culture' but every report commissioned has shown this to be a myth for work-related injury, illness and death. Many families of killed workers get no compensation at all.

 

"As mere families of people killed due to the failures of employers, we have been denied a meeting with Chris Grayling, Minister for Employment, but he has of course met all the business lobbyists. We have no cash, just our blood, bones and guts, we cannot buy the government policies we need, but they can. It is now clear that Cameron and Clegg lead a coalition government that has become the political wing of the business lobby's lunatic fringe and it could not be plainer, this is government of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%, and to hell with the lives and health of workers and the 99%."

 

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