Giving evidence to Government Committee
30 April 2008
Chris Jackson recently gave evidence to the Government's Work and Pensions Committee.
The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee's Third Report of Session 2007-08 entitled 'The role of the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive in Regulating Workplace Health and Safety', was published on Monday 21 April 2008. Chris Jackson, partner and Solicitor-Advocate, was called to give evidence.
His submission included concern that the original framework of health and safety legislation, which was to regulate health, safety and welfare in the workplace, had been stretched to encompass wider issues of public safety, and that the scope was now too broad. Some fellow expert witnesses echoed the same view.
The report has asked the Government to clarify its strategy for public safety, demonstrating where responsibility for this strategy should lie and how funding for its regulation should be allocated. Mr Jackson went on to argue a further point, requesting that the key legal requirement "to do everything reasonably practicable" to ensure that risks are controlled should be clarified. Currently it is not defined and the HSE and other regulators take the view that everything should be done unless it is "grossly" disproportionate. Uncertainty as to what is and isn't "gross" can lead to over-interpretation.
This may be one of the factors fuelling risk aversion and playing a part in the stories about health and safety - from conkers to Christmas lights - that frequently appear. Mr Jackson said: "The test of what action is reasonably practicable is at the heart of safety law – but it is not defined in statute. Many of the current fears and uncertainties – particularly in public policy areas such the work of the emergency services or voluntary outdoor activities – would be removed if that was addressed." His submission has led to a recommendation by the Committee that the Law Commission should review the current wording and approach.