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RR536 - Evidence based evaluation of the scale of disproportionate decisions on risk assessment and management

This report summarises a study into the prevalence and causes of disproportionate health and safety management in the UK. It confines itself to decisions that are disproportionate in terms of excessive caution, excluding reckless decisions. The work involved: reviewing previous research, collating media reports, consulting trade associations and professional bodies, postal survey of decision makers in organisations, mini email survey of IOSH members, and 12 case studies. We found that media reports can be inaccurate and focus on areas of public interest.

Our survey found that only a small minority of organisations report banning the activities reported in the media or by trade/professional organisations. Also, three times as many respondents think the UK has a problem with risk aversion than think their own organisation has such a problem. However, a significant minority of organisations report banning, discouraging or having excessive H&S requirements for at least one example. Some important factors include the fear of litigation, prosecution and personal liability, taking measures to reduce likelihood of a fatal accident even where risk is low, as well as responding to serious incidents. Our case studies show that some examples are complex and involve difficult balances between equally valid needs of people, such as carers and persons in care.

Respondents' solutions include providing more definitive H&S guidance, getting decision makers to seek professional advice, controlling litigation, better H&S training of decision makers and HSE publicising what is a sensible approach. It also appears that the perceived likelihood of litigation and prosecution may not accord with actual trends in litigation and prosecution, suggesting that steps could be taken to address the fear of litigation/prosecution and how organisations respond to these fears.

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Updated 2011-02-10