Grimsby MP voices concerns over health and safety laws

Labour’s Great Grimsby MP, Austin Mitchell, has accused the Government of attempting to “water down” health and safety legislation.

The Government says the plans will give greater protection to charity and volunteer workers involved in liability claims.

Mr Mitchell, however, raised doubts over Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s contention that the move would remove the bureaucracy that deters some people from volunteering.

“I am suspicious of all these attempts to water down health and safety legislation and I’m particularly suspicious now of anything that comes from Chris Grayling, after his reforms to the justice system,” the Labour MP said to The Grimsby Telegraph.

“His decision to impose these additional duties on judges and to ask them to qualify the facts of each case on such a basis doesn’t seem, to me, to be what health and safety measures were intended for.

“Without knowing the details of how he plans to enforce these measures or without knowing how exactly they are going to work, I am concerned about the potential impact these changes could have on health and safety.”

“If anything, I’m in favour of stronger health and safety,” added the Grimsby MP.

Cleethorpes MP, Martin Vickers, batted back Mr Mitchell’s concerns, insisting that Mr Grayling had latched onto a prevailing opinion that the health and safety culture had “gone way beyond what was intended”.

Speaking to the Grimsby Telegraph, he said: “Of course, the emphasis on safety is absolutely right and proper and when I visit oil refineries or chemical works in the constituency it’s understandable that the staff are very conscious of the risks and proud of having achieved a safety record so much improved on not so long ago when this was a much more secondary issue.”

Mr Vickers welcomed the reduction in deaths and serious injuries in the workplace.

“That said,” he continued, “we all hear and read of so many nonsensical decisions, usually taken not by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), but by individuals and organisations frightened of a possible legal case resulting from a relatively minor accident.

“Voluntary organisations and community groups are finding it more and more difficult to find volunteers, as many are fearful of being on the wrong side of officialdom, which sometimes appears to act wholly unreasonably.”

Does health and safety stop people from volunteering?

Mr Mitchell cast doubt over predictions of a buoy in volunteer numbers once the laws come into effect.

“Health and safety doesn’t stop people from volunteering; what does stop them is the way police record checks are currently conducted,” he said.

“Firstly, they take too long to process and need to be sped up. Secondly, it doesn’t seem right that someone who committed a minor offence 20 years ago shouldn’t be allowed to volunteer for the Scouts today.”

The Ministry of Justice says the reforms, which would come into force as early as next year, will allow judges to take into consideration additional factors when deciding negligence cases.

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