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Health and safety - the 'cancer of a civilised society' - Timothy Walker, HSE's Director-General responds

Letters Editor
The Sunday Times
1 Pennington Street
E98 1ST Health and Safety Executive
Rose Court
2 Southwark Bridge

14 April 2004

Dear Sir,

I am sorry Jeremy Clarkson believed in his Sunday Times column on 11 April that health and safety was the 'cancer of a civilised society.' I do not think the families of over 200 people killed at work each year would share his view.

I was impressed he had read up on our strategy on workplace health and safety and the Workers' Safety Adviser Challenge the Health and Safety Executive announced last month. Given that knowledge, I was, therefore, surprised he made inaccurate claims regarding feet-washing on Maundy Thursday and army training.

HSE did not tell Sheffield Cathedral to use multiple towels during Easter; nor did we instruct the Army to install handrails on the Brecon Beacons.

I am naturally pleased Jeremy survived his TV exploits in drag-racers and fighter jets, but the headline to his article, Health and safety and the death of television, reminds me of a number of accidents involving television programmes. Many people will also remember the death of a member of the public, Michael Lush, during a bungee jump for the BBC in 1986. Then, there was Anthea Turner's near miss with a motorbike during another BBC programme. Since those accidents, and others, HSE has developed good relations with many broadcasters, such as the BBC, who come to us for guidance on health and safety.

The world in which HSE operates is one where 28,000 workers are seriously injured and 40 million days are lost to occupational ill health and injury each year.

Accident rates have thankfully come down dramatically in the last 30 years, but there is still a lot to do - but that does not mean HSE prosecuting more and more, although we believed there was a case to answer in all of the 900-plus cases we took to court last year. HSE firmly believes in sensible health and safety management. We have never said risks at work can be eradicated, just properly managed.

HSE last year invited Jeremy Clarkson to see our work at first hand; the offer is still open, Jeremy.

Yours faithfully,


Updated 2013-01-23