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Response to comment piece in Saturday's Weekend Guardian by Max Hastings

Letters Editor,
The Guardian,
119 Farringdon Road,

Dear Sir,

It is a pity that a good legal decision, allowing swimming to continue in the Hampstead Heath ponds, has provoked another intemperate and slightly incoherent response (Max Hastings, Comment 30 April).

It seems that every opportunity is being taken to knock health and safety in the workplace, yet the risks of doing so are not properly rehearsed. Last year the UK construction industry killed 71 people, but there were four times this number killed in this sector before the Health & Safety Executive was formed.

There are three drivers for better health and safety - the criminal law (enforced by HSE) which requires employers to consider risks and plan appropriate working arrangements. And it's working - we have a booming economy, with more people employed than ever before but with fewer deaths and injuries.

The second driver is the fear of compensation claims. But recent research (Cabinet Office) shows that claims of all types in the workplace have been static for four years and fell last year.

Finally, there is bad risk management which drives managers to make poor decisions (about swimming, goggles for conkers and much else besides). Crazy decisions made in the name of health and safety are often nothing to do with those who train and study to practice this profession.

Managing risk in complex environments, and supporting businesses in making finely balanced decisions that affect the welfare of those at work requires skill, experience and judgment. Increasing and maintaining the competence of those who make these complex decisions is something IOSH is passionate about - which is why we have made professional development mandatory for all Members, and will introduce the first Chartered Safety and Health Practitioners later this year.

Health and safety advice increasingly requires highly trained people, it's no longer a field for well-meaning amateurs. But don't allow bad health and safety to become an excuse for lessening the protection of people who deserve to return from their place of work in one piece at the end of each day.

Lawrence Waterman
The Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH)
The Grange
Highfield Drive
LE18 1NN

Updated 2010-02-11