The HSE versus Insurers?


It is apparent to anyone who spends any time reading the news stories circulated by the publicity people of HSE that they are riled about negative media reports on the subject of Health & Safety enforcement.

If ‘H&S’ is being used as a scapegoat, the full weight of the HSE machine is brought to bear – especially if the culprit is arguably not the regulators themselves but may be the insurance industry.

Take as an example a recent article from the Bracknell Forest Standard. Judge the case for yourself from these extracts.

Hugh Fort of the local paper reported that a mother who resides in a local block of flats, paid out herself for play equipment for use not just by her children but all of the young residents in their communal garden. This comprised swings and a trampoline, which cost Coleen King £700.

Property manager Bracknell Forest Homes “fears a child could be injured by the equipment and has told her no play equipment should be left out permanently for health and safety reasons”.

The article goes on to explain that Ms King has started a residents’ petition and does not understand why this ruling has been made.

It then explains that the letter from the property managers makes these points:

  • “…whilst the area is for the use of all residents in Moor Close, the intention is for the area to be used as a ‘quiet area’ for residents to sit in”.
  • the large trampoline “must be moved immediately” and should not be left permanently installed due to health and safety.

Further clarification is supplied by the local council’s housing and community services director, who comments: “This play equipment was erected without our permission in a communal area which can be used by members of the public. The equipment does not meet the standards required for public use and we are concerned that a child could be injured, particularly as the equipment is left unsupervised at times”. She also reminds residents of the dangers of dog fouling in the communal area.

So what is the HSE position? Their reply states:

Standard readers can be reassured there are no health and safety ‘rules’ that govern play equipment in gardens. To state otherwise is both inaccurate and misleading. Bracknell Forest Homes should have made clear in their statement that it wanted the play equipment removed for insurance and liability reasons, not health and safety. It is important to be clear about what the law does and doesn’t require – it’s too easy to blame ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ when something is ‘banned’ for other reasons. Health and safety laws exist to protect workers and others from death, serious injury and ill health at work, not to ruin children’s playtime

Now consider again the reasons given by the council and how (if you were a Health and Safety consultant on the case) you might have dealt with the issue via a risk assessment. On the evidence provided:

  • the play equipment was not fit for purpose for public use and was not professionally installed with safe landing ground etc.
  • the use of a trampoline was not supervised: kids could have hurt themselves at any time of day or night
  • the area was designated as a quiet area so should not have been used in this way.

The final point is that the council “do consider requests for one-off events, such as birthday parties or a communal barbecue, where safety considerations have been taken into account and insurance is in place. Owlsmoor andSandhurstdo have some very nice recreation areas for families to enjoy in safety and we would encourage residents to use these areas.”

So here we see the insurance aspect that is raised in the HSE letter and which is often the problem. The insurer’s underwriters often state that to get their permission you need to satisfy H&S legislation. At that point clients often give up and take the default position that ‘Health & Safety gone mad’ has blocked them, rather than working, with safety consultants where needed, to meet the regulations that exist (for good reasons in most cases).

In this case the resident and her supporters could have approached the project in the right way and overcome the pitfalls, liaising with the property managers and the Council to make sure that this impasse did not occur, before she spent her money.