Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Budget 2012 takes the axe to Health & Safety regulation - 150 years in the waiting

Stephen Fry quipped the most sophisticated joke I’ve ever heard during an episode of QI. It was about Peter Bazalgette being responsible for putting s**t back into our homes after his Great Great Grandfather, Joseph, went to so much trouble getting it out. Peter Bazalgette is responsible for TV productions such as Big Brother and Deal or No Deal while his ancestor built the London Sewers and Thames embankments. Joseph Bazalgette not only put a stop to recurring cholera epidemics but also exported his engineering expertise around the world. What a great chap, but it’s his extraordinarily unregulated approach to health and safety that is most impressive. He applied the simple methodology lost on modern day regulators; he cared. With 112 people killed constructing the Hoover Dam and 60 killed building the World Trade Center you’d be forgiven to think many hundreds would have died during the construction of Victoriana’s largest engineering feat during a period of regulatory laissez faire. In fact there were 10 deaths, all of which weighed heavily on Bazalgette’s conscience. We know this because hand wrote a letter of deep remorse to the relatives. His compassionate nature meant that the welfare of his employees was of utmost importance and, as a consequence, there very few deaths and serious injuries in this monumental 19th Century project. What would come as a surprise to the regulators of today is that he managed this without a single health and safety regulation. Of course people are killed and injured at work, and for that there has to be a punishment to fit the crime and for that we have the Health and Safety at Work Act. This Act was emerged from the Heath Government and is the best Act ever made … ever. Its requirements are clear and succinct and the sanctions are proportionately punitive. With a sprinkling of supporting regulations and plenty of guidance this is all we needed. Then the rest of the EU caught up with the UK and we’ve been forced to adopt directive after directive requiring regulations covering, in minute detail everything from going up ladders to using an electric drill. Continental Europe’s codified legal system brought in 6 sets of regulations just to catch up with the UK’s one Act of Parliament. Europe’s system of codified law is completely incompatible with the UK system of common law. This is the problem and the solution must be radical. We must stop blindly implementing EU directives in some cases word for word. The EU needs to accept that the unique way that British law is formulated means that hundreds of EU directives can be implemented by referring simply to the Health and Safety at Work Act and this is no hyperbole. Court judgements, codes and guidance are the defining features of our legal system and do not need to be replicated into yet more regulations. The Government’s drive to deregulate can be given a major boost by simply persuading the rest of the EU that we do things differently over here but just as effectively. If we are insistent on staying in the EU then the EU need to accept this and let the UK implement directives in its own way.

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