EU health & safety laws to be fought

conkersKids' conkers, cheese rolling competitions and hanging baskets on council lampposts could all be given a reprieve following a review of draconian health and safety legislation.

Activities have been banned because of fears of being sued because of overzealous European rules, according to an independent professor. And they could all make a comeback if the government fought Europe a bit more

Raising the Alarm

A group at the sharp end is called Alarm – it represents council and charity insurance bods, who have to buy insurance and handle claims. It said: "We find instances of activities that have been curtailed or cancelled due to fears over alleged health and safety implications.

"As a result, communities are diminished as years' old customs and practices are abandoned, playgrounds closed, trees felled and hanging baskets removed – all in the name of health and safety, and fears of legal suits being taken out against the council, school or community group involved."

Alarm was agreeing with Professor Ragnar Löfstedt's review called Reclaiming health and safety for all. Alarm wasn't alone as insurers and lawyers queued up to back the proposed changes. And the government said it would act too.

What's the time Mr Woolf?

Professor Löfstedt's slammed the mistaken use of what are called Woolf pre-action protocols on liability cases. This was a list of documents Lord Chief Justice Woolf said might help to speed up liability legal cases. But they have since been misused.

The government pretty much summed up how bad it had got in its official response. It said: "It was never the intention that the lists - which include 11 documents for disclosure relating to general workplace health and safety requirements, and 64 documents for disclosure where specific health and safety regulations apply - should be treated as an absolute requirement.

"However, as the Professor has found, often employers are encouraged to settle compensation claims if all the paperwork is not in place, regardless of their overall compliance record."

Stark liability rules

Löfstedt's also demanded an end to strict liability rules when organisations could not have prevented accidents. This came about because of a case called Stark v The Post Office, in which a bicycle front brake failing - that could not have been detected – was found to be the Post Office's liability.

The government said: "The government recognises the unfairness which results where an employer is found liable to pay damages to an injured employee despite having taken all reasonable steps to protect their employees from harm."

There were many recommendations to simplify health and safety rules, including exempting self-employed workers who pose no risk to anyone else. But the bulk of the recommendations attacked the EU for not basing its rules on genuine risks, backed up by evidence. There were six individual points raised about the incompetent EU.

Up for the fight?

And the government was told to stop pussy-footing about and start throwing its weight around a bit more, to make sure no future stupid health and safety rules are brought in.

It all sounds excellent. Sally Roff, partner at international law firm DAC Beachcroft, said: "The most significant conclusion is one of approach, in that the UK should change its previous unquestioning approach to the endorsement of European regulation, and when considering further regulation take into account the impact of it on business as well as a consideration of reasonable practicability."

But she warned: "One wonders whether, in the current climate, government will have the funds or appetite to engage with Europe on this."

For the sake of conkers, cheese rolling and hanging baskets, let's hope it does.
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