Simon Jenkins' article seriously misrepresented the work of the Health and Safety Executive (Those who walk under trees are at risk from these terrorising inspectors, November 17). He takes the HSE to task for investigating a tree-fall that killed a boy. He suggests that the owner of any fallen tree now risks being prosecuted as "neglectful", and that this is an example of "a monster out of control".
Even Jenkins must accept that, were the HSE to investigate every falling tree, it would have no resources left to investigate anything else. So might it be reasonable to conclude that there are factors in this case, such as management practices or the working environment, that warrant investigation under health and safety law? Unfortunately, while this is ongoing, the HSE is very limited in what it can say.
Jenkins wrongly suggests that HSE inspectors have powers of arrest and that the organisation can sue; it does not. We are a prosecuting authority but with limited powers and, contrary to Jenkins' assertions, are not empowered to pursue manslaughter charges. HSE does not have a "campaign against old buildings", nor has it banned ladders. Jenkins claims the HSE's "agents stopped our local Guy Fawkes bonfire and firework display". We don't have any "agents", and have better things to do then ban his bonfire.
He also claims, incorrectly, that our mantra is "any risk is a threat". In reality, the HSE accepts that risk is part of life. It is unrealistic and undesirable to attempt to remove all risk completely. Risks should be managed, proportionately and sensibly.
I recognise that sometimes "health and safety" is used as a reason to stop perfectly acceptable things happening. That is why my message is "get a life" - in other words stop focusing on trivial risks that deny people opportunities to enjoy themselves, and concentrate on those that can kill or injure: the real tragedy here is that most work-related deaths and injuries are preventable.
However, I'm happy to say that more and more people are coming to the HSE for advice, asking about proportionate responses to particular risks. For example, new guidance - with our input - on managing safety on school trips is being launched today by the Department for Education and Skills.
Jenkins also suggests, rather bizarrely, that because the health and safety minister sits in the House of Lords, this somehow makes HSE less accountable to parliament. This is patently not so. Lord Hunt can be questioned in the Lords on health and safety matters, and ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions can be questioned in the Commons. Parliamentary select committees can, and do, also call ministers, myself and HSE officials to account. HSE is not out of control.
I am disappointed to see Jenkins avoiding a sensible debate on health and safety. Independent polling evidence, however, shows that employers and employees alike value the work of the HSE. They do not see us as a "monster".