Andy Bishop, Health and Safety Consultant

I was recently the victim of a theft. I placed a sleek and shiny mobile phone safely in the car glovebox when I dropped it off for its monthly clean. I assumed, wrongly, that it would still be there after I had my car washed. I searched my house, I checked the laundry, I went to the office to see if I had inadvertently left it on my desk, I hadn’t, I resigned myself to life without the phone.

Spurred on by a rerun of Inspector Morse, I conducted a thorough investigation which revealed, beyond any reasonable doubt (in my mind) that the person charged with vacuum cleaning my car interior felt that he needed my phone more than me and so helped himself to it.

I went to the car wash and confronted the foreman who denied all knowledge and even though I presented my anecdotal evidence to him, he persisted with his innocence. The police were informed, a crime number was issued and due to the lack of concrete evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that one of the car washers now has a shiny new phone at my expense, it was left at that.

The criminal in this case is protected under the ‘presumption of innocence’, which requires me to prove that he stole my phone, and for that, I needed hard evidence and not assumptions. Innocent until proven guilty.

In Health and Safety law the requirement for the burden of proof is reversed.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act an organisation is automatically regarded as having failed to ensure the health and safety of employees or others if an accident has occurred.

If this isn’t enough, a further section of the Health and Safety at Work Act makes it clear (once its translated from regulatory legalese) that it shall be for the accused to prove … ‘that it was not practicable or not reasonably practicable to do more than was in fact done to satisfy the duty or requirement, or that there was no better practicable means than was in fact used to satisfy the duty or requirement’.

If health and safety law were applied to my mobile phone theft, then I (the victim of the crime) become the accused because I didn’t do everything practicable or, reasonably practicable to stop my phone being stolen. I could have slipped it into my pocket or I could have locked the glovebox, or I could have even washed my car myself and not provided the temptation in the first place.

I could have argued that I had my car washed there many times before and never had anything stolen, so why should I go to the extra trouble, after all, I’ve been doing it that way for years! ‘You’re asking for trouble with that attitude!’ remarked my mate when I told him of my loss.

If cases of petty burglary and theft were tried in the same way as an accident or incident at work, I’m pretty confident that our belongings would not get stolen anymore!
The world of Health and Safety Law can often be difficult to understand and interpret. We are often guilty until proved innocent or in some cases less guilty.

Here at HCS Safety we have a whole team of experienced individuals to keep you on the right side of the law and more importantly, you and your employees safe. If you would like to see what we can do for you and your team or just contact us for a chat, please follow this link to our Membership Services.

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