Malcolm Underhill, specialist personal injury lawyer comments on Lord Young’s review of H&S Laws and the Compensation Culture
20th October 2010
For decades the Conservative Party has professed to be the party to rid entrepreneurs of superfluous bureaucracy. The current Government has continued this trend, attacking the voluminous paperwork completed by businesses, as they endeavour to resist the so called compensation culture.
Lord Young has been tasked by the Prime Minister to review the operations of Health and Safety laws and the compensation culture. His review is not complete but that did not prevent the former Thatcher Cabinet Minister expressing his views at the recent Conservative Party Conference. It is unfortunate the former lawyer has not collated all the evidence before expressing his conclusions. One therefore speculates as to whether there is already an agenda set.
Lord Young’s research reveals the UK has one of the best health and safety records in Europe and that, thankfully, he will do nothing to jeopardise that record. However, there must be a risk of the nation’s standards being eroded if the Government substantially removes the requirement for “form filling”, which he describes as “nonsense”. The Government should do nothing that may annul the recent decline in fatalities at work (15 per cent lower between April 2009 and March 2010, compared with the previous 12 months) and those on Britain’s roads (12 per cent
lower in 2009, than in 2008).
One sensible observation is that completion of a risk assessment alone will not prevent an accident or serious injury. Indeed, as a solicitor specialising in personal injury, I support Lord Young’s view. There are too many businesses who act as if completion of a risk assessment form adequately protects their staff from accident and injury. All too often, these assessments are completed, placed in a drawer and then not reviewed. Even if they are reviewed, little thought appears to be given to the real issues that face employees and others who might be affected by a failure to put protective measures in place. There is a requirement for risk assessments to be approached intelligently, identifying real hazards and the measures required to eliminate or reduce those hazards.
Whilst I can support the notion of removing red tape that harms enterprise, there is a genuine risk the public will no longer be adequately protected. I agree with Muiris Lyons, President of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, who said, “Accidents happen. But negligence is unacceptable, and those who cause needless injury should be held accountable”.
In his speech to the Tory faithful, Lord Young talked of small businesses working in fear of bankruptcy, should they have a claim made against them. However, they need not have such fears, as insurance should be in place. Indeed, some insurance is compulsory and has been so, for over 40 years. Two purposes of insurance are to provide comfort to those who run businesses and to protect potential victims of injury, so that innocent individuals of negligent employers and others, can receive fair compensation to meet their reasonable needs. That is the mark of a modern society, one that supports those who through no fault of their own suffer significant injury.
Lord Young criticised those who encourage people to sue. There is some force in this, but very few people want to make a claim. Solicitors shy away from those who wish to claim for minor injuries or make speculative claims. Solicitors want to help those who have suffered significant harm, to help claimants with life long problems, which not just affect the victim, but also their loved ones, particularly when they can no longer work and/or require long term care.
Lord Young says there is no risk of his report being pigeonholed. It will be government policy, approved by the Cabinet and the Prime Minister. There is no objection to a change in policy but a measured approach must be taken, with the Government talking to all stakeholders. Indeed, I urge Lord Young to speak with personal injury lawyers, to ensure a balanced approach is taken, so that businesses can run a prosperous enterprise, but in an environment that provides protection to those who fall foul of negligent employers and others.