The compensation culture is primarily a product of the deregulation of the legal services market, under which lawyers were permitted to advertise for the first time. From this grew tele-market firms of ambulance chasers flooding the public with a simple message; if you've had an injury of any sort, it must have been someone else's fault, and we can get you compensation. Most claims will be made under the tort of negligence; that the other party had a duty of care, were sufficiently proximate, were negligent in the discharge of their duty and the plaintiff suffered loss and injury as a result. So everyone tripping over an upstanding paving stone sues the council, everyone slipping on a grape on a supermarket floor sues Tesco and so on. The tightening of the balance of liability under the tort is down to the higher courts making new law; they could extend the doctrine of contributory negligence to anyone not looking where they were walking, or extend the defence of volenti non fit injuria to anyone walking out of their own front doors into the big, dangerous world. The latter defence should at least be strong enough to protect the organisers of cheese-rolling events and suchlike from being sued by participating competitors who may break a leg chasing a Cheddar down a hill.
The second issue is the scaremongering around the H&SAWA. The relevant word in this legislation is 'work'. It is designed to protect employees from losing limbs in unguarded machines, being buried in unpropped trenches, falling from heights and so on. It's nothing to do with conkers falling on passing pedestrians. But it has an enforcement body - the H&S Executive - and guilty employers are fined heavily and sometimes jailed, so 'Health and Safety' is often used as a vague bogeyman warning with an implied jail cell at the end of it. The defence to anyone trying to stop anything 'on Health and Safety' is to ask 'Let me see your risk assessment, please', which brings us onto a third point.
You cannot carry out a meaningful risk assessment on any proposed innovation or activity in isolation of the risks we already accept. I have to make this point time after time at work and my greatest allies are canals and gas. You see, even though two to five drunk persons each year drown in canals, no one seriously suggests that all canal tow-paths should be fenced, and they remain, with no protective barrier between path and water, a triumph of common sense. And if you prepare a risk assessment for piping a highly explosive substance into every home in the country the use and control of which is given to completely untrained persons including the very young and very old that says anything other than that this is fine and dandy then you're a fool.
You see, under a risk assessment, the consequences of an event may be extremely 'high' - death, multiple deaths, serious damage and injury - but if the probability of it happening is extremely low than it's fine. The entire population of the West Midlands might all fall into the unfenced canals producing a human catastrophe on a holocaust scale, but because this is extremely unlikely to happen we can leave them unfenced. Too often, the improbable consequence overcomes good judgement and conker trees are cut down, hanging baskets are banned and every puddle in the public realm is encircled with a steel palisade fence.