Tom Keighley

“Blitz” on health and safety burden

Thousands of health and safety regulations are set to be scrapped, in what the Government is calling a “red tape blitz.”

From April 2013, new binding rules on both the Health & Safety Executive and on local authorities, will exempt thousands of businesses from regular health & safety inspections.

In future, the Government says businesses will only face health and safety inspections if they are operating in higher risk areas such as construction, or if they have an incident or a track record of poor performance.

Further legislation will also be brought in to ensure businesses are only held liable for civil damages in health and safety cases if they can be shown to have acted negligently; ending the current situation where businesses can automatically be liable for damages.

The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) said the announcement was “misleading”, and the action represented a misunderstanding of the situation where exaggerated fear of being sued is “fed by aggressive marketing,” which the body says should be tackled.

Richard Jones, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at IOSH, said: “These sorts of announcements have been made before and it is very disappointing that everyone immediately starts pointing the finger at health and safety, which is always seen as an easy target.

“The talk of reducing around 3,000 regulations and at the same time focusing on health and safety is misleading. There are only 200 health and safety regulations in total, so any reduction in these will be a tiny percentage of the 3,000 and so far only 21 have been considered.”

Some 6,500 substantive regulations will be examined as part of the focus, and the Government is now committing to abolish or substantially reduce at least 3,000 of these regulations, which will be identified by December 2013.

Business Minister Michael Fallon said: “Today’s announcement injects fresh impetus into our drive to cut red tape. We have identified the red tape and now we are going to cut it.

’ We’re getting out of the way by bringing common sense back to health and safety. We will now be holding departments’ feet to the fire to ensure all unnecessary red tape is cut.“

Alexander Ehmann, Head of Regulatory Policy at the Institute of Directors said: “The Government’s efforts on deregulation are welcome. Today’s announcements are good news if they are 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. The IoD encourage Michael Fallon to turn up the heat on the removal of red tape and help to get Britain’s economy moving.

“Removing the headache of health and safety inspections for low-risk businesses is a step change. Scrapping unnecessary and unpredictable inspections is a valuable piece of deregulation and the Government are to be congratulated for taking such bold and decisive action on behalf of Britain’s businesses.”

The changes result from the Government’s ‘Red Tape Challenge’, and will complement employment tribunal reforms.

Dr Adam Marshall, Director of Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC): “Reducing the burden of health and safety red tape will be welcome news to many businesses, and is a win for common sense. The BCC has long argued for a risk-based approach to health and safety, with a less onerous regime for companies with low-risk workplaces.

“These measures mean that law-abiding, low-risk businesses can live without the constant threat of time-consuming and costly inspections. It’s a sensible change whose time has come.”

Katja Hall, CBI Chief Policy Director, said: “Businesses will be encouraged by this 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. Crucially, this will also focus inspectors’ time on the cases that really matter.”

Unions warned against cutting regulation, saying it could lead to more injuries and deaths as a result of poor safety.

TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber, said: “Contrary to myths peddled by ministers, the UK is facing an occupational health epidemic. Over 20,000 people die every year as a result of a disease they got through their work and a further 1.9 million people are living with an illness caused by their work.

“Some of the “low risk” workplaces identified by the government, such as shops, actually experience high levels of workplace injuries. This will only get worse if employers find it easier to ignore safety risks.

“This epidemic will only be stopped by ensuring that employers obey the law, and when every employer knows their workplace can be visited at any time.”

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