A ‘fear factor’ centred around no win, no fee lawyers and poor advice from consultants is landing firms with unnecessary headaches, says one of the UK’s top health and safety officials.

Judith Hackitt, chair of the Health and Safety Executive, told the Mail during a visit to Birmingham that low-risk businesses had little to fear from ‘common-sense’ health and safety regulations.

And she attributed the climate of fear surrounding health and safety to a US-style litigation culture which had grown out of proportion to the actual risks involved.

Ms Hackitt, in Birmingham for a two-day conference at the NEC on health and well-being at work, said: “We do not want businesses to feel that health and safety is a burden.

“If you are running a low-risk business, where all your people are office-based, there is very little that you have to do. There is a lot of paperwork around but it is not generated by regulations.”

She said there were many myths surrounding health and safety. “Sometmes it is because people get bad advice or it comes from consultants who make a living out of making things more complicated than they need to be.

“There is bad advice, there is over the top advice and some of that over the top advice is about trying to protect businesses from extremely remote possibilities, that if the very worst were to happen, they might just get sued.

“Some firms are hiding behind health and safety. This can range from people getting poor customer service to people in public swimming baths, for example, being told they can’t do certain things.

“It is not to do with regulation, the regulation that comes from health and safety is sensible and proportionate. It is also about civil claims and a conmpensation culture and businesses trying to protect themselves against that. Often the chances of a claim being brought and succeeding is very small. “I have had texts on my mobile saying ‘if you have an accident, you can claim some money.’ People are just relying on the fear factor.”