Lord Young Reviews Health and Safety Laws for Tories

Most political parties promise one thing or another in the build-up to a general election without necessarily intending to keep their word once the votes have been cast. However, in the case of the Conservatives and personal injury claims, it would appear that Prime Minister David Cameron’s vow to wage war on the UK’s so-called ‘compensation culture’ is set to become a reality in light of Lord Young’s review of health and safety laws. Although the media has only recently latched on to the work of Lord Young of Graffham, who was the former industry minister under Margaret Thatcher, the Tory peer has been conducting the review since last year. All aspects of health and safety in the UK, including laws pertaining to personal injury claims, are expected to be covered in the review.

When David Cameron announced last year that his party aimed to allow companies to self-regulate their health and safety procedures, almost all trade unions highlighted the dangers of such an act. The Health and Safety Executive, however, remained silent on the matter until Lord Young’s review was afforded more attention at the beginning of June. Since then, the Health and Safety Executive’s Chair, Judith Hackitt, has welcomed the review as a means of exposing companies that hide behind the veil of Health and Safety for one reason or another, whilst the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has declared the review as an ideal opportunity to explore the contradicting ways in which the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 can be interpreted. Unfortunately, early indications suggest that Lord Young’s review aims to cut substantially deeper than most health and safety organisations would prefer.

In an effort to restore “common sense” to the country, Lord Young has pledged to change regulation in order to bring about a “system that is proportionate and not bureaucratic”. During recent weeks, Lord Young has highlighted the role of emergency workers, personal injury law firms and office buildings as requiring change in the health and safety context. On the latter point, Lord Young commented: “I don’t think offices are dangerous places”. In reply, a spokesperson for the Prospect union warned that Lord Young must clearly demarcate “petty bureaucracy enacted under the label of health and safety and HSE regulation to prevent deaths and disease in the workplace”. It is feared, however, that Lord Young’s review might be part of a wider Conservative agenda to cut national spending; by deregulating health and safety to a certain extent, significant public savings could be made whilst enabling companies to free themselves of regulatory red tape. Theoretically, such a move would be good for the economy in the short-term – but what consequence would it have on the welfare of workers?

Another element of Lord Young’s health and safety reviews aims to tackle the ways in which personal injury law firms operate. In fact, Lord Young has openly expressed an intention to end television adverts explaining the public’s right to access legal assistance in pursuing compensation. Reducing the number of personal injury claims raised in courts across England and Wales would sit well with the Conservative’s cost-cutting measures, not least because the Ministry of Justice has this week announced plans to close 103 magistrates’ courts and 54 County Courts in the UK.

Advertising no-win-no-fee personal injury services is an essential component of the justice system in England and Wales; outlawing television advertisements on the subject merely limits the public’s access to justice.

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