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The Scotsman: "Health and safety the twin gods that put nonsense before care "

Dr Paul Stollard, HSE Director Scotland, responds

Health and safety is deadly serious. Scotland has a terrible record of deaths and ill-health in the workplace and far too many people suffer illness, injury or bereavement. It is increasingly fashionable to mock health and safety in the way Lesley Riddoch does (debate and opinion,15 September), but this does a real disservice to an important issue and also gives a misleading and confusing message to the public.

"Certainly there are examples of over-zealous behaviour. There are occasions when employers or event organisers use health and safety as an excuse for what they might wish to do anyway, or what they are required to do by their insurance companies in the culture of litigation which now exists.

"However it is critical that we do not allow these sorts of stories to deflect from the importance of proper health and safety measures in workplaces. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is about saving lives, not stopping them. Last year in Scotland, 31 workers were killed and more than 12,000 seriously injured. Behind each of these statistics there is a personal tragedy, a family harmed, lives damaged.

"Poorly managed health and safety led to the deaths of two workers at an Ayrshire quarry last year, when their vehicle was crushed by a large dumper truck. The deaths were entirely preventable, and the company was fined a total of £400,000.

"Between 2001 and 2005, seven Scottish workers were killed and more than 1,000 were injured after falling from ladders. That's why for the last two years, HSE has been actively campaigning to have these unsuitable ladders taken out of use and replaced by new ones. We are currently working with private firms to offer businesses discounts on new ladders when they trade in their dodgy ones - we estimate the initiative has so far removed 4,000 dangerous ladders from UK workplaces and prevented many serious injuries or fatalities.

"Our latest campaign highlights the continuing dangers caused by asbestos in the workplace. Many people are familiar with the grim toll of deaths of those who contracted asbestosis in shipyards and associated industries. But the dangers are not a thing of the past. Less well known is that joiners, plumbers, electricians and people in similar trades are at risk of exposure to this toxic, hidden killer, without even knowing it is present.

"We are taking our message directly to these workers, urging them to equip themselves with the knowledge on how to work safely, protecting themselves from this deadly disease.

"Informed common sense is the key. This has to underlie all assessments of health and safety (that is all a risk assessment is). Everyone in the workplace needs to think about what they are doing and what might go wrong. A good risk assessment will help avoid injuries and ill health, which can not only ruin lives, but can also increase costs to business through lost output, compensation claims and higher insurance premiums.

"Far from being the "twin gods that put nonsense before care", health and safety are the cornerstone of a civilised society. Mocking health and safety can encourage a complacent or "gung ho" attitude. If it isn't taken seriously then more fitters in quarries will be crushed by giant trucks, more health workers will suffer chronic back injury, more building workers will be at risk from asbestos, more will die falling from damaged ladders. "

Paul Stollard, HSE Director Scotland

The Health and Safety Executive
Belford House
59 Belford Road
Edinburgh
EH4 3UE

Updated 2011-11-07