Health & Safety Reform
What does the governments drive to cut red tape mean for your business?
Why is safety reform needed?
When the Coalition Government came to power in 2010 they began to act on their pre-election promise of restoring sensible governance to business, particularly in health and safety enforcement, in the form of two major reviews; Lord Young’s examination of UK health and safety culture, common sense, common safety and Professor Lofstedts review of Health and Safety law reclaiming health and safety for all.
One of the reasons why these reviews were created were to tackle the health and safety culture in the UK. Toothpicks banned in restaurants, children made to wear goggles whilst playing conkers and trainee hairdressers prevented from using scissors are all evidence of how the UK’s attitude to health and safety has gone mad. The government wants businesses to focus on creating jobs and growth and not being hindered by excessive bureaucracy
In many ways it is not the legislation that is causing the problem. These myths mostly attributed to over enthusiastic decision makers or avoidance of costs have led to the common impression that health and safety is the manifestation of the nanny state fuelled by ambulance chasing lawyers, medaling unions and fun police enforcement. Most health and safety regulation comes from Brussels and applies equally across the EU, but it seems other countries are managing to interpret the legislation in a more sensible way, without it being misapplied to circumstances it was never intended to cover.
Risk assessment is about protecting lives, not stopping the enjoyment of them. There is no doubt that something needs to be done to stop crazy decisions being made regarding health and safety. Health and safety law is needed to protect workers and the public from serious harm and the Government needs to make sure that the balance is not tipped in the opposite direction. The most important question is what do these changes to health and safety mean for your business?
Health and Safety changes for October 2012 – April 2013
Now, in autumn 2012 we are seeing the results of these reviews, with the government planning to introduce new rules in April 2013. The headlines are as follows:
- Plans to exempt thousands of businesses from health and safety inspections – HSE budget cuts and Government plans meant that “low risk” workplaces such as offices, shops and pubs will be exempt from routine health and safety inspection. Although welcomed by the Institute of Directors the move has earned the ire of worker protection bodies such as trade unions.
- To ensure that businesses will only be held liable for civil damages in health and safety cases if they can be shown to have acted negligently.
- The government plans to remove 3,000 regulations – although these are mostly obscure leftovers from long-since superseded or irrelevant laws and do not include the main Health and Safety Regulations which the Lofstedt review decided were broadly fit for purpose”.
- Largely in response to Government cuts of its funding, HSE is implementing its controversial Fee for Intervention (FFI) scheme as of 1st October 2012. FFI will allow HSE to recover its costs from businesses that commit a ‘material breach’ of the law i.e. a failure to comply with the law that requires an intervention from HSE such as notification by letter, an improvement or prohibition notice. These fees will be in addition to any costs or fines associated should a prosecution be pursed.
- The Occupational Safety & Health Consultants (OSHCR) has helped to legitimize the role of health and safety consultants, ensuring a minimum standard of qualification and experience and marginalise the so-called cowboy consultants.
The majority of these new measures have been applauded from Business groups. Alexander Ehmann, head of regulatory policy at the Institute of Directors, said the announcement was “good news” if it marked “the beginning, not the end, of the deregulation story”. “Excessive regulation costs time and money, both of which businesses would rather spend on developing new products, hiring staff and building up British business both here and abroad,” he said.
But some trade unions have voiced opposition to the move.
General workers union the GMB said the safety of employees and customers was being put at risk. “This isn’t about cutting red tape, it’s about cutting the throat of safety regulations and the trade unions will mobilise a massive campaign of resistance,” added Mr Crow.