Everyone complains that ‘Health and Safety’ has got out of hand. Uncertainty about the law is the problem, and it has led to increasingly burdensome safety practices and litigation.
The trouble is that the bottom end of the ‘duty of care’ risks scale, that is, where risks become so small that they can be ignored, is not defined by law. To cure the problem, Parliament should define the lower limit of personal accountability for Health and Safety questions and then apply the ‘de minimis’ principle - ‘the law ignores trifling matters’.
‘Health and Safety’ promotes two fears, first, unreasonable fears of trivial hazards, and second, reasonable fears of speculative litigation. By quantifying ‘acceptable risk’, Parliament can reduce safety paranoia, unnecessary precautions and unreasonable litigation.
Insurance companies and engineers use maths to quantify risks. They can measure the small everyday risks that we accept as normal and don’t worry about, such as being run over while crossing the road, or being poisoned by home-made jam made in a non-inspected kitchen, or by fish-and-chips wrapped in newsprint.
By means of an illustration, take a local authority which has 100 primary schools. From 1970 until 1990 (when they introduced the practice of children being personally collected from school by a specified relative or friend) there was not a single case of a child being kidnapped on the way home from any of their schools. The insurance company calculated - as you can - that the probability of a child being abducted from one of this authority’s schools was less than once in 2,000 years, that is, negligible. So no additional safety measures were necessary, and the insurance premium would be trivial. But the insurance company insisted on burdensome safety precautions and charged a substantial premium, not to protect the children, but as a defence against litigation.