LONDON (Reuters) - Conservative leader David Cameron promised on Tuesday to reform Britain’s “over-the-top” health and safety culture, saying it had become a straitjacket on personal initiative and responsibility.
A Conservative government would bring back “common sense, discretion and personal responsibility,” he told an audience in London.
The Trades Union Congress accused Cameron of distortion and urged politicians not to undermine a consensus over health and safety in the run up to the general election due by next June.
Cameron acknowledged that heath and safety legislation has brought benefits, with Britain enjoying one of the lowest workplace fatality rates in the European Union.
But the opposition leader said something had gone wrong with the interpretation of the legislation 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 ... We’ve got to ask: how has this been allowed to happen?”
He blamed a growing compensation culture, with highly publicised claims for injuries creating a legal “hypersensitivity” to risk and accidents.
“Businesses, organisations and individuals operate under the shadow of the worst case scenario,” he said.
“The more vulnerable they feel, the more cautiously they act — and the more stringent their health and safety processes become.”
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said none of the examples cited by Cameron related to health and safety regulation. “They are either distortions of the facts or misunderstandings,” he said.
“The Health and Safety Executive has tirelessly campaigned to ensure that employers address the real risks at work, rather than concentrate on the trivial,” Barber added.
Cameron’s criticism accords with the Conservatives’ traditional aversion to bureaucracy and red tape, as he prepares for a general election which opinion polls show his party is expected to win.
“I want people to know that with the Conservatives, government will let you get on with your life without unnecessary rules and regulations,” he said.
He pledged to take a measured approach to the issue, announcing the appointment of veteran Conservative politician Lord David Young to lead a review of the relevant laws.
“For every piece of health and safety legislation, we need to ask whether it fulfils a useful purpose — and if not, it must go.”
Editing by Keith Weir