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Firms should take a commonsense approach to health & safety

Health & Safety
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Kate Devlin reported in The Herald last week that there had been a big decline in the number of workplace inspections by the Health and Safety Executive in Scotland. It comes as no surprise that there has been a reduction in the number of health and safety checks.

Since coming to power, Prime Minister David Cameron has, on several occasions, voiced his concern about the ‘health and safety monster’ and has declared war on red tape which he believes is ‘strangling’ UK business. Unfortunately, the only casualties in that war so far are the increasing numbers of workers suffering injury and ill-health as a result of some employers taking advantage of a perceived slackening of the enforcement effort. 

The Coalition Government promised massive cuts in health and safety regulation after publication of the respected Lofstedt Report. Despite the report concluding that much of the health and safety legislation was fit for purpose, and only minor parts of it were outdated or outmoded and needed reviewed, the Government has ploughed ahead and revised and consolidated a number of regulations. 

However, most changes have at best had minimal impact and, at worst, added to employers’ burdens, making it more difficult to see how they are going to ease the perceived burden of health and safety red tape. 

As businesses waited for the application of more common-sense regulation, the Government responded with minor tweaks to some regulations that have not been applicable in any industry for many years (Tripe Dressing and Herring Curing Regulations anyone?) and deletion of unnecessary or superseded laws. Further, the consolidation of various codes of regulation has resulted in bigger sets of regulations, but with no practical impact whatsoever on business requirements. Changes in RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) require two different standards of record-keeping (as yet undefined) where previously there was only one - even more red tape.  

Lauded by the Government as a means to tackle higher risk sectors and those industries that flaunt health and safety legislation, the introduction of Fee For Intervention (FFI) is viewed by many as a way for the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) to raise money from businesses. Under the new regulations, those who are found not to be compliant with health and safety legislation are liable for the recovery of HSE’s related costs, including inspection, investigation and taking enforcement action; effectively an additional health and safety tax on the very businesses that the Government purports to support. 

Businesses should not consider that fewer inspections means they can take a more relaxed attitude to health and safety. In fact, it should mean the opposite. Since coming into force in October 2012, the scheme has increased the number of invoices issued every month. It generated around £857,000 from December 1, 2012 to January 31, 2013, with 60% of inspections resulting in a charge for businesses. This is £100,000 higher than collected between October and November 2012, and included nearly 500 more invoices than issued during the first period. 

The application of FFI, combined with dramatic cuts in funding and inspector numbers, has irreparably damaged the relationship many businesses previously had with the inspectorate. There are fewer inspectors making fewer inspections; and when they do arrive, they are looking to find a material breach to charge FFI, rather than offering friendly advice and support to return the business to compliance. 

All too often, health and safety regulation can be overly convoluted and confusing for those responsible for these areas within organisations, which can ultimately lead to them falling short on compliance. Faced with a myriad of legislative changes and the prospect of hefty FFI costs, the price of investing in experts to remain compliant seems a sound investment. By taking a commonsense, plain-speaking approach to tackling health and safety, companies should be able to get back to what they do best - running their business.

As featured in The Herald, 24th July 2013

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