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RoSPA - Is Britain going backwards with workplace health and safety?

A former head of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will question the sustainability of Britain’s present occupational health and safety achievements during a speech today. (Tuesday, October 20)

Geoffrey Podger CB, visiting senior research fellow at the Centre for Risk Management, King’s College London, will give his verdict on the current state of workplace health and safety during the annual Allan St John Holt Memorial Lecture, hosted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and Royal Mail.

Addressed to an audience of health and safety professionals, Mr Podger’s speech - titled Health and Safety: Is Britain Going Backwards? - will outline the impact of regulatory reform initiatives, the lack of a balanced debate about risk, and the apparent lack of effective joined-up national initiatives to prevent the massive and unnecessary burden of accidents on individuals and society – not least, the health care system.

Much of the toll of death and injury from accidents falls on people of working age and their immediate families and also inflicts economic damage on employers. As such, Mr Podger will argue that there is a need to see workplace health and safety in the wider context of public health.

He will also say that that there is a need for the government of the day, employers and individual workers to give priority to accident prevention. He will then discuss whether the current approach to health and safety regulation needs to be reconsidered to avoid the “vicious cycle of lurching from over precaution to under precaution at potentially high cost to the taxpayer".

Although there are control measures and licensing systems in place to prevent workplace accidents, the key issue is whether they are “effectively and continually observed”, Mr Podger will say.

He will also emphasise the need for competence in tackling health and safety issues at all levels and the risks inherent in over-reliance on "common sense".

Ahead of the lecture, Mr Podger said: “Although Britain has come a long way in terms of health and safety achievements, the question still needs to be asked about whether we are doing enough to maintain and improve on what has been achieved.

“I am in no doubt that we should and could do better. There is a very real opportunity to recognise the areas in occupational health where we need to do more in order to achieve a balanced and proportionate approach to health and safety.”

The annual lecture, taking place in London, commemorates the life and work of Allan St John Holt OBE, who was influential in the field of safety and health, and was group head of safety at Royal Mail Group at the time of his death in 2007. The safety charity RoSPA and Royal Mail host the event to stimulate fresh thinking about accidents and ill health.

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