Page last updated at 17:14 GMT, Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Cameron says health and safety rules 'over the top'

David Cameron
David Cameron says health and safety rules have "saturated" the UK

Conservative leader David Cameron has called for an end to the UK's "over-the-top" health and safety culture.

In a speech, he said this had created a "stultifying blanket of bureaucracy, suspicion and fear".

In recent years, he added, children had been told to wear goggles to play conkers and trainee hairdressers had been banned from using scissors.

But Labour said Mr Cameron's views were based on "myth" and that the system was "sensible and proportionate".

The Conservative leader announced a review of the rules when he spoke to the Policy Exchange think tank.

Village fetes

He said there were often "noble" intentions behind laws, but added: "I think we'd all concede that something has gone seriously wrong with the spirit of health and safety in the past decade.

"When children are made to wear goggles by their head teacher to play conkers.

"When trainee hairdressers are not allowed scissors in the classroom.

I want to see if we can extend this sort of legal protection for all people acting in good faith - especially public service professionals
David Cameron

"When office workers are banned from moving a chair without expert supervision. When staff at a railway station don't help a young mum carry her baby son's buggy because they are not insured.

"When village fetes are cancelled because residents can't face jumping through all the bureaucratic hoops.

"It is clear that what began as a noble intention to protect people from harm has mutated into a stultifying blanket of bureaucracy, suspicion and fear that has saturated our country, covering the actions of millions of individuals as they go about their daily lives."

Mr Cameron said the "fear of transgressing" UK and EU rules sometimes meant people "stand aside when others need help".

Lawyers' incentives

He cited the death of Jordon Lyon in September 2007 as an example, saying the 10-year-old had "drowned in a pond, having rescued his young sister, because officers were told not to intervene as they hadn't undertaken their 'water rescue' health and safety training".

Mr Cameron insisted the biggest cause of the UK's health and safety culture was the "perception" that "behind every accident there is someone who is personally culpable, someone who must pay".

The problem with 95% of Health and Safety rules is that they are put in place to prevent paranoid organisations from being sued
Reg Pither, London

"We see it in those adverts on television, which say that if you've suffered some fall or mishap you can take legal action without much cost.

"We see it in the commercialising of lawyers' incentives to generate litigation, through the system of enhanced success fees and referral fees which has led to a growth in 'ambulance-chasing'."

Mr Cameron announced that former Conservative Trade Secretary Lord Young would lead a review into how the health and safety culture can be curbed.

He said: "I want to see if we can extend this sort of legal protection for all people acting in good faith - especially public service professionals."

'Traditional heroism'

The Health and Safety at Work Act would also be amended to ensure the danger of prosecution does not put teachers off taking children for adventurous activities.

A Conservative government would seek to renegotiate EU regulations such as the Working Time Directive, which limits junior doctors' hours.

It would prioritise the risk to the public above that to police officers, allowing them to act with their "traditional heroism", Mr Cameron said.

He called for changes to the laws governing compensation claims, although he did not demand an end to "no-win, no-fee" arrangements.

For Labour, work and pensions minister Lord McKenzie said: "David Cameron's caricature of health and safety is based on myth and exaggeration, and is just a rehash of what previous Tory leaders have said.

"It flies in the face of the important work the Health and Safety Executive does to tackle precisely those myths.

"The UK's health and safety framework absolutely does not prevent children from playing conkers, policemen from doing their jobs and people from living normal lives.

"The system is not based on eliminating risk but on sensible and proportionate steps to help manage it."

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "None of the cases mentioned relate to health and safety regulation - they are either distortions of the facts or misunderstandings.

"People expect political parties to develop policies based on facts, not on half-truths and myths culled from newspaper headlines."

Print Sponsor

Apology over gnome removal order
30 Nov 09 |  West Midlands
Schools 'too safe' teachers say
18 Jun 09 |  Education
Tories 'to help have-a-go heroes'
30 Sep 08 |  UK Politics
PCSOs 'knew where child drowned'
24 Sep 07 |  Manchester
Police defend drowning death case
21 Sep 07 |  Manchester

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific