Friday, 6 January 2012

Elfin Safety

I gather from frothing on Twitter that iDave is talking about reigning in the lunatic madness of Health and Safety regulation. Predictably, tribal lefties are screaming about corporate murderers and how "the workers" will now be electrocuted, thrown into mills, and sacrificed to various frivolous profits.

The Daily Mail tendency are, of course, equally cheered. A triumph over the lunacy of elfin safety will now be won.

The truth is that both sides are wrong. iDave will tinker with the regulations but do nothing substantial.

Why the frothing from the left? Businesses have no particular interest in killing or harming their employees, because dead employees demotivate staff, reduce retention and cost in compensation - at the most cynical and heartless level. And of course, this ignores the fact that employers are human beings as well. So, I don't believe that it's in any way "good business" or profitable not to take a reasonable level of care for your employees.

But the other side of the coin is true as well: do employees not have a duty to take reasonable care of themselves? No person takes a job which says "one of your duties is to stick your arm into this tree shredder", do they? Do employees not have any responsibility in any industrial accident that may happen?

The problem with blindly relying on checkbox regulations is that people assume that they don't have to think about their own safety any more. I would argue that the mere presence of overweening health and safety regulation is that many people assume they don't have to think about their own safety any more.

I don't have a problem with each business clearly articulating the level of risk to each employee and letting them voluntarily transact. Some people have more of an appetite for risk than others. If the risks are crazy, employers won't find staff and will have to do something. But the massive burden of irrelevant, voluminous regulation that applies to all business is just a stupid cost.

13 comments:

Marian said...

They have. People just need reminding not to be prats and not to stick their fingers in teh plug sockets. http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Employment/HealthAndSafetyAtWork/DG_4016683

Anonymous said...

Well, there was that case where an estate agent employed a sole trader to fix something on the roof.

The guy fell of the roof, and the estate agent was sued and fined by the H&S for not providing relevant safety procedures.

So legally, they really are removing any responsibility from the worker.

SumoKing said...

oh dear oh dear oh dear,

Health and safety regs could certainly at least do with being streamlined and some serious training given particularly to local authority morons who are utterly clueless and think people need their homes bubble wrapped

but, as society is currently structured there are a number of issues, first, most health and safety is criminal law so the HSE comes out and (generally) fines you if you beach or fail to comply with laws regs etc (setting aside the volume and appropriateness of said laws / regs).

next, workers have a duty to take reasonable care of other workers, however, the employer is vicariously liable for its workers and has to carry compulsory insurance to cover employment liabilities (which can horribly conflict with RTA insurance leading to all kinds of cripple fights but that's another issue), the employer (or its insurer on a subrogated basis) can recover monies from the employ, it's just in these days of industrial machinery, astronomical care costs and the tendancy of the NHS to kill patients that this can be horrifically expensive and a no hope move against a bulgarian builder with £5 to his name.

Now a clumsy worker that blasts himself in the face with a jack hammer is likely to find that the employer will plead that the employee had undertaken a voluntary assumption of the risk or contributed significantly to the act of negligence. I would doubt that the employer who brings in thick as pig shit kids for buttons and gives them no training does not get to body swerve its duty of reasonable care entirely though.

There is the further issue that society has decreed that business can create a fake scapegoat person by sticking LTD or PLC at the end of their trading name thus removing management and owners from the responsibility that a sole trader or partnership faces and arguably insurance may further dampen the notion that the business carries a risk if it fcuks it's employess for a quick buck.

Lastly, there is no 0 cost option. If you just shred healty and safety legislation or water down the duties that the employer owes its employees to keep Essex used car sales men and pikey builders happy then the cost of remedying injuries and such no longer falls on the negligent party it falls on the taxpayer through the NHS.

Joseph Takagi said...

The story that Anonymous is referring to:-

http://www.hse.gov.uk/press/2011/coi-w-morrismarshallpoole.htm

Roger Jary might be alive today if simple safety measures had been put in place. Morris, Marshall & Poole had a duty to ensure the safety of those they employed - whether working directly for them or not.

What the fuck?

The whole thing of being a contractor is that you're a big boy, you're supposed to be responsible for yourself. If you're fixing a roof as a contractor then you should know about fucking roofs, and if you don't, that's your problem, not your client's.

yokel said...

There is precious little that iDave can actually do, as H&S is an EU "competence" these days. Britain must go cap in hand to our government in Brussels, and ask "pretty please, would you mind if we made/changed this law?"

The real problem is that nobody these days has the balls to stand up to greedy claimants and their lawyers. Neither insurance companies or judges are prepared to say "Nice try, but on your bike, sonny!"

Longrider said...

The problem with blindly relying on checkbox regulations is that people assume that they don't have to think about their own safety any more.

Section 7 HAWSA places a responsibility on the employee to cooperate with the employer on matters regarding health and safety. Regualtion 14; Management regulations places a duty on the employee to report breaches of health and safety, so yeah, the law as it stands sees a two-way street.

That said, there are employers who will place their employees in danger for the sake of the bottom line. I have a clip we use for training purposes of video footage of folk working on the open railway line in dense fog. They are nearly bowled over by a train. When questioned as to why they agreed to work in such conditions they stated that if they had not, they would be out of work the following day. Welcome to the world of casual labour.

And I don't suppose I need to mention Tebay?

All of that said, less law and keep it simple.

Longrider said...

Roger Jary might be alive today if simple safety measures had been put in place. Morris, Marshall & Poole had a duty to ensure the safety of those they employed - whether working directly for them or not.

What the fuck?


This is the Swann Hunter situation. If you employ someone, even if they are not an employee, you still have a duty of care. This is a basic common law principle. That duty of care may be as simple as providing relevant information so that the contractor can make informed judgements about managing his own health and safety while working.

JSB said...

"That duty of care may be as simple as providing relevant information so that the contractor can make informed judgements about managing his own health and safety while working."

Dear contractor,

The roof is very high off the ground. We advise you not to fall off.

Sincerely,

M, M & P

Michael Fowke said...

"Employers are human beings as well."

Just about.

Longrider said...

Er, no, in the case mentioned, the roof did not support his weight. That was relevant information and a fairly standard common law duty of care.

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

How old was he????

A few months short of 80 years ferfeksake...

The mind boggles. Self employed contractor...?

WTF?

I am minded of the burglar at a Luton(IIRC) post office who was knocking a hole in the asbestos roof (away from the supports, with no boards, in the dark) and fell 10m or so, breaking quite a lot of bones = who sued because some arsewipe ambulance chaser figured that the warning signs on the walls (the use crawling boards ones)were a foot or two too far apart...

£50K I heard

Peter Crawford said...

On a lighter note. The H and S man where I used to work was a right little Hitler, always bugging people and responsible for several official warnings to his colleagues.
One day, in a fit of pique, he decided to demonstrate the officially correct way to position a ladder in front of about twenty people.
In so doing he fell off and broke his nose and both wrists.
o be fair we only started laughing after he was safely in the ambulance.

Anonymous said...

*Er, no, in the case mentioned, the roof did not support his weight. That was relevant information and a fairly standard common law duty of care.*

It was a plastic roof.

If he didn't know that it couldn't take his weight, he wasn't competent and it's his own fault.

Except they have you over a barrel on that one as well, because it's your responsibility to ensure they are competent.