Well-funded enforcement trumps calls for extra laws
Wednesday 26th July 2017
From the archive: Just so you know, this article is more than 3 years old.
The incidents have prompted calls for, variously: heavier penalties for those carrying out such crimes, tighter restrictions on the sale of caustic liquids and the introduction of a new offence of using corrosive substances as weapons.
The response is a paradigm for the reaction to the sudden emergence or re-emergence of a hazard into the public consciousness. But some of the solutions that suggest themselves immediately to such problems are likely to be more effective than others.
The first of the three proposals seems sensible if there is evidence that acid attackers have been sentenced too leniently to date. The current consultation by the Sentencing Council advocates increasing the tariff for gross negligence manslaughter by those who owe a duty of care because courts are currently handing out shorter prison terms for it than for other kinds of unlawful killing.
Restricting corrosives at point of supply -- the second suggested remedy -- also has its merits. Public access to equipment or materials that can have malign as well as benign uses is often controlled. In most Western countries our individual freedom to buy guns and some knife types is strictly curbed. The US is the exception and pays for its citizens' personal liberty with a rate of homicidal shootings seven times that of the highest-ranked European country.
The question is how much convenience we are willing to sacrifice for the collective good. There are few domestic uses for concentrated sulphuric acid, but heavy restrictions on sales of bleach or sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) would almost certainly cause a backlash.
The third option, framing a new offence specific to acid attacks, should give us pause. Current law allows attackers using corrosives to be charged with grievous bodily harm and in some circumstances just carrying acid could attract a charge of possession of an offensive weapon under the Prevention of Crime Act.
The latest increase in violence involving acid is not, in itself, evidence that these powers aren't sufficient.
Recent accidents involving tower cranes have led to some calls to reinstate the Notification of Conventional Tower Crane Regulations 2010. But those regulations were repealed because they had been introduced in reaction to an earlier clutch of crane accidents, but without any expectation by the regulators that they would result in safety improvements.
Legislation enacted with the main purpose that the government will satisfy the public demand to "do something" simply clogs the statute books.
More important than new laws, surely, is robust enforcement of the ones we have already that forbid us deliberately or negligently harm others.
Redirecting our attention to enforcement and pressing for the adequate funding of the enforcers that necessitates, whether it is the police or the safety and health regulators, should be our priority.
As the Gig Guide feature (IOSH Magazine August 2017 issue) shows, in disrupting the markets in which they operate, companies such as Uber and Deliveroo are asking questions of the safety and health profession.Their workers are choosing flexibility and short-term contracts and this creates a fluidity in workforces that tests traditional methods of risk management.
As a result of the lack of a working majority for any party, we have entered a period of political uncertainty.Without wishing to sound parochial at a time when the future of the National Health Service, provision of decent housing for young people and many other crucial issues are on the agenda, the impact of big politics on how we pursue safer and healthier workplaces is worthy of consideration.
In preparation for the change, the head of safety at a university took his freshly drawn-up set of fire risk assessments to his local fire authority, which previously had the task of certifying the premises, and asked if an officer familiar with the campus would give an informal opinion on whether they were sufficient or needed more work.When reminded that it was no longer the fire service’s job, the OSH head persisted until the officer told him: “If you have a fire and we prosecute you afterwards, then you’ll know your assessment wasn’t good enough.”
Two “chatbots” – programmes designed to simulate conversation between humans – had been set up to practise and develop trading skills.Soon after the programmes started negotiating with each other, they developed their own simplified version of English which quickly became incomprehensible to the researchers supervising them.
New figures which begin to quantify this stark truth were revealed at the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Singapore (September 2017), a triennial gathering where leading organisations for safety and health connect with ministers, policymakers and some of the world’s largest corporations.
Our first annual salary survey highlights the fact that, in the UK at least, the safety and health profession is ageing faster than some others. Only 15% of the practitioners who took part in our poll were under 35 and the median average age was between 45 and 54. The median for the whole working population is 42.