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Solicitor Advocate Andrew Henderson, a partner with Thompsons Solicitors warns that hard fought gains in the field of Health and Safety provisions to safeguard workers could be a victim of the credit crunch.

Whether the economy is heading for a full scale recession or whether we are simply entering a "downturn in the economic cycle" is a question which is exercising the minds of politicians and newspaper commentators at present.

It may be unclear whether the official definition of a recession is likely to be met in the UK or not and, indeed, it may be uncertain whether the Scottish economy is likely to fare better or worse than the UK as a whole but probably for those employees concerned about rising fuel and food prices and concerned about the security of their jobs, it may matter little what economic label is placed on the current economic difficulties.

What will also be of concern to employees across both the public and private sector is how their employers will react to difficult economic times.

One concern is that many organisations will try to save money on what they consider to be "soft" targets like spending on health and safety.

However any company attempting to cut corners in relation to health and safety spending is seeking false economies and in doing so would not only be putting workers health and safety at risk but would be likely to be costing itself more in the long term.

It is clear that it is not legally justifiable for any organisation to try to cut spending on employee safety simply because it is short of money. As the leading law text book in the personal injury area says 'limited resources cannot give rise to a lower standard of care". Many organisations do not devote adequate resources to health and safety matters as it is and the thought of cut backs in that area is a frightening one.

Over recent years and acting on the lead given by the European Union, UK Health and Safety Law has switched from a situation where employers were able to react to accidents and to claim that they were unaware of a hazard until an accident occurred to a situation now where, in theory at least, they require to be pro-active and to carry out assessments of risks in order that hazards are identified and risks reduced.

Employers require to understand that the requirement to assess risks is a continuous and changing one but like all appropriate health & safety measures following the risk assessment requirements has a potential benefit for companies in terms of cutting down on lost time due to accidents and ill health and in potentially cutting down insurance premiums.

Employers who use current economic fears to cut back spending on health and safety are needlessly putting at risk the lives and safety of their employees and are also doing themselves a long term disservice.

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