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May 19, 2010

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Irish government addresses health and safety admin ‘burden’ on business

Complying with health and safety regulations costs Irish businesses far more than fulfilling other information obligations, leading many of them to view these duties as onerous and excessively time-consuming.

Employers cited the undertaking and preparation of risk assessments and safety statements as the most burdensome during interviews carried out last year by the Irish Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment (DETE) as part of the national programme to measure and reduce admin burdens on business by 25 per cent by 2012.

The project was set in motion in March 2008 as part of the wider EU ‘better regulation’ drive and is initially focusing on three areas – company, employment, and health and safety law – in which 31 information obligations have been prioritised and measured (12 of them health and safety-related).

The total admin burden for the 12 health and safety-related information obligations was measured as €271,102,770. Admin burdens are defined as what businesses do only because they are required to by law, otherwise they wouldn’t bother (everything else is defined as ‘business-as-usual’ costs – both together make up total admin costs).

The two biggest contributors by far were the obligations to carry out risk assessments and prepare safety statements. Together these accounted for some 95 per cent of the total health and safety burden. Health and safety as a whole was also by far the most significant of the three areas of law measured – it accounts for 57.5 per cent of the total admin burden and more than 60 per cent of the total admin costs.

These results are based on interviews with and input from companies of varying sizes and across different sectors, and from the Health and Safety Authority, plus a number of independent health and safety experts. An interesting finding was that some organisations, such as the Irish Business and Employers Confederation and the Construction Industry Forum, highlighted the “significant and onerous burden” and “huge costs” of complying with health and safety obligations but were much less negative about company and employment law duties. On a positive note, however, many interviewees said they would continue to undertake their health and safety activities to a large extent, even if the legal obligation to do so were removed.

The DETE has indicated that most significant burdens will be prioritised for action first. In a briefing note prepared for the June workshop, it says the approach will be two-pronged: “We are looking for big-ticket items that will contribute to the target, and we’re looking for irritations that will help businesses really notice that we’ve done something to help them.”

However, it is clear that removing any obligations is not part of the plan. Said the briefing note: “The project is not about deregulation or judging any legislation to be unnecessary; it is assumed that the policy goals of the regulation in question are good. What we are looking for is unnecessary or over-complicated paperwork.”

Interestingly – though unsurprisingly – it was also discovered during the interview and measurement process that while many larger companies have dedicated health and safety personnel, SMEs tend to fulfil this function as part of general management activities. Given the degree of expertise required to meet some of the information obligations, many companies said they rely on external health and safety experts and advisors.

Many of the smaller companies interviewed were found to be not fully compliant with a number of their health and safety obligations; they either did not have a risk/safety statement or had “borrowed” one from another company.

Once the measurements for 2010/2011 have been completed, the aim is to develop simplification plans, detailing how burdens will be reduced for business to meet the target by 2012. A workshop is due to be held on 15 June to discuss simplification options with business and other sectoral experts. The DETE said the input of business is crucial to this event and those interested in taking part should e-mail [email protected]

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