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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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News: Govt plans to axe employer safety checks garner mixed response


Government plans to exempt hundreds and thousands of businesses from “burdensome” health and safety inspections as part of its pledge to cut business red tape have garnered a mixed response.

Under a binding statutory code that is due to be introduced in April 2013, proactive checks will no longer be routinely carried out on premises such as shops, offices, pubs and clubs, which are considered to be low risk.
Business minister Michael Fallon attested that the inspections placed an unnecessary burden on many businesses and so would only be imposed on organisations operating in what are deemed to be high risk areas such as construction and food production.
Companies where staff had experienced an accident or there was a track record of poor performance in relation to safety would also be subject to checks, however.
The code, which will be put out to consultation later this month, would also see the Health and Safety Executive taking responsibility for directing local authority inspections.
But the government is also proposing to introduce draft legislation next month to try and ensure that businesses will only be held liable for civil damages in those health and safety cases in which they can be shown to have acted negligently.
This means that employers that have complied with their health and safety duties will no longer be automatically liable for damages as is currently the case.
Mixed reaction
But the proposals generated a mixed reaction. Katja Hall, chief policy director at employers’ lobby group the CBI, welcomed them, saying that businesses would be “encouraged” by the announcement.
“Given that half of firms say health and safety checks are a burden, and they are disproportionately costly for smaller firms, freeing low-risk businesses from tick-box inspections makes obvious sense,” she attested. “Crucially, this will also focus inspectors’ time on the cases that really matter.”
But Richard Jones, head of policy and public affairs at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, was not so sure.
He said that two recent government reviews in the area by Lord Young and Professor Ragnar Loefstedt respectively as well as the government’s own ‘red tape challenge’, had found the current system to be “broadly ‘fit for purpose’”.
“The problem is with a misunderstanding of what the real requirements are. So we need better education on sensible management of risk. There is an exaggerated fear of being sued in this country, fed by aggressive marketing, which the government needs to tackle,” Jones claimed.
Moreover, cuts to inspections were “concerning”, not least because businesses that currently benefited from proactive checks and being able to receive expert advice would lose out under the new regime.
“The end result is that standards may drop, and more people are killed or injured,” Jones said. “Good health and safety saves lives, supports business and sustains the economy. We support streamlining and getting rid of redundant legislation, but not a lowering of standards.”

One Response

  1. Removing health and safety inspections from ‘low risk businesses

    The Government’s latest plans to remove regulated health and safety inspections from ‘low risk businesses’ could be perceived as a step back, when considering the potential implications from a Health & Safety viewpoint. The health & safety hurdles faced by any business stem from an awareness and understanding of the legal requirements placed upon them.  Currently, there are approximately 200 Health and Safety Regulations in force, therefore, a business could very easily fall foul of compliance in their industry without professional guidance/assistance.

    To date regulated inspections are undertaken by local authorities, HSE inspectors, who have the right to enter any workplace without giving notice.  On a normal inspection visit an inspector would expect to look at the workplace, the work activities, an employer’s management of health and safety, and to check that the business is complying with health and safety law.  This type of inspection fits the proactive monitoring model which is intended to highlight shortfalls in the management of health and safety in the workplace before an incident occurs.

    By exempting low risk businesses from these inspections, the door could be potentially opened to a reduction in legal compliance and a potential reduction in the effectiveness of hazard control measures within the company arising from this reduced professional proactive monitoring.

    An additional driver to ensuring that systems remain effective arises from reporting accidents and incidents to the enforcing authorities, as this may initiate an enforcing authority investigation a result of which could see inspections of the workplace, introduced as compliance monitoring tool. These reporting requirements are also currently under review with the HSE and if reduced as is mooted, could compound the current health and safety implications. It is agreed that a low risk business operating within the legal framework for health and safety will save costs in time and resources generated by health and safety inspections, however, moving forward, if and when the enforcing authorities are required to intervene, costs could quickly escalate, especially with the planned implementation of the HSE Cost Recovery Scheme (Fee for Intervention) which will put a duty on HSE to recover its costs for carrying out its regulatory functions from those found to be in material breach of health and safety law.

    Businesses should be aware that exemption to health & safety inspections will not exempt them from the legal duties to manage health and safety in the workplace.  With current health and safety legislative requirements in such state of flux, ongoing, proactive monitoring, undertaken by a competent person within or on behalf of a business regardless of an external regulated influence, will remain key to ensure that systems remain legally compliant and that intervention from an enforcing authority is minimised.


    Matt St John,Head of Health and Safety ServicesC&C Consulting 



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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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