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Rebuttal letter from HSE's Deputy Chief Executive, Kevin Myers to Daily Mail newspaper

Dear Editor,

Quentin Letts makes some good points in 'R.I.P, Old-Fashioned Common Sense', [The Daily Mail, 20/4/09]. In particular, I support his acknowledgement that many of the press stories about 'elf 'n safety' are not true, and that we need to emphasise personal responsibility in a balanced approach to risk management.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is concerned with addressing real risks, such as the 229 workers who were killed in workplace incidents last year or the 28 million working days lost to work-related ill health. During 2007-08, 58 workers died and 3,623 suffered a major injury owing to a fall from height - ladders remain the most common factor (accounting for a third). So, while poking fun at 'ladder training' may have some mileage there are 58 families and groups of friends that may disagree.

Quentin also criticises the approach to maintaining gravestones taken by some councils and claims that this is a consequence of HSE guidance. He fails to mention that this became a concern in 2000 when three children were killed by unsafe headstones. The current guidance produced by the Ministry of Justice (with local authorities, other stakeholders and HSE) seeks to put risks of unstable headstones into context and advises on a sensible and proportionate approach that (importantly) also respects the needs of the bereaved.

Recommendations to focus on serious incident areas like construction are also forthcoming, and I can assure readers that is exactly what we do. With the exception of major hazards (such as the nuclear industry and offshore oil and gas), construction is the most highly resourced sector by HSE. After agriculture, it is the most dangerous sector in Great Britain.

But to be clear, we are in agreement with Quentin's call for a commonsense approach to health and safety - and that is precisely what HSE is all about.

Yours faithfully

Kevin Myers
HSE Deputy Chief Executive

Updated 2013-01-23