Löfstedt welcomes progress on reforms but urges more EU engagement
Professor Ragnar Löfstedt has praised the HSE on the progress it has made in implementing a number of his recommendations for health and safety reform, but he has urged the Government to be more active in its dealings with European risk-management policy-makers.
With an eye on the forthcoming European Commission’s review of health and safety regulation, the professor, who carried out a wide-ranging review of health and safety in 2011, urged the UK “not to be on the sidelines”, hinting that any achievements might be overshadowed if the country’s health and safety stakeholders do not actively engage with their European counterparts.
‘Reclaiming health and safety for all: a review of progress one year on’, published today (4 February), reveals that all the recommendations made by Professor Löfstedt in his original report have either been delivered, or are on track. He admits, however, that his own advisory panel – which includes the likes of Dr Adam Marshall, from the British Chambers of Commerce; Liz Snape, from the TUC; and the former chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, Sir John Armitt – disagrees on how some of the recommendations, notably those relating to strict liability and local-authority inspections, are being implemented.
He sought to distance himself from the controversy surrounding the reforms to RIDDOR by pointing out that most of the criticisms have been directed at Lord Young’s proposal (contained in the latter’s 2010 report, ‘Common sense, common safety’, and implemented in April last year) to extend, from three to seven days, the period before an injury in the workplace needs to be reported.
Said the professor: “Critics believe the proposals will reduce the level of protection offered to workers and weaken the regulation, monitoring and management of health and safety. My recommendation for RIDDOR focused on making the regulations, and associated guidance, clearer and simpler for employers to understand and comply with.”
The findings of an HSE consultation on further amendments to RIDDOR will be considered by the HSE Board this year, as will the findings of a consultation on exempting the self-employed from health and safety law, in situations where their work activities pose no potential risk of harm to others.
Commenting on the proposal for self-employed workers, Prof Löfstedt acknowledged concerns raised by stakeholders that this might lead to exemption of the self-employed in risky occupations, such as construction. Stressing that this was never his intention, he welcomed the fact that “the consultation document focused on clarifying which categories of self-employed workers would and would not be affected by the exemption”.
He also expressed the need for care in relation to the revision or removal by the end of the year of 12 Approved Codes of Practice – plus a potential further three – so that “the removal of an ACoP is not incorrectly perceived as the dilution, or removal of the underpinning legal requirement”.
Noting that by April, there should be about 10 per cent fewer sets of health and safety regulations on the statute books than when he commenced his review two years ago, the professor acknowledged concerns that the revocation of the Construction (Head Protection) Regulations – the duties imposed by which are contained in more recent regulations – could increase the risk that head protection is not worn.
The HSE is planning to mitigate any such risk by targeting smaller construction firms with the message that head protection must still be provided and worn – an approach Prof Löfstedt supported.
He also points out that some of his original recommendations have not been implemented as thoroughly as he intended. For example, his proposal for the HSE to be given the authority “to direct local-authority health and safety inspection and enforcement activity” is being taken forward in the form of a National Local Authority Enforcement Code – currently undergoing consultation and due to be launched in April. He described the decision not to take forward his proposal to the letter as “unfortunate”, but agreed it is a step in the right direction to ensuring more proportionate local-authority enforcement.
Similarly, Prof Löfstedt raises doubts over how his proposal to review regulatory provisions that impose strict liability is being implemented. The Government’s plans in this area could reverse the current position on civil liability, meaning that compensation claims relating to health and safety breaches will need to prove negligence on the part of the employer.
Said the professor: “The approach being taken is more far-reaching than I anticipated in my recommendation and, if this amendment becomes law, I hope that the Government will carefully monitor the impact to ensure that there are no unforeseen consequences.”
Responding to the progress report, the Department for Work and Pensions highlighted that it is on course to review, scrap or simplify half of all health and safety legislation by next year, and pointed out that the change to RIDDOR will save businesses £5m over 10 years.
Added Employment minister Mark Hoban: “For too long, businesses have been confused by health and safety regulations, which cost them money and take up time when they should be focusing on growth. Health and safety is important, but its focus should be where risks are high.”
Meanwhile, IOSH expressed its disappointment that Prof Löfstedt had not called on the Government to rethink the speed and scale of the review implementation.
It added: “IOSH believes a number of the Löfstedt recommendations to be conceptually flawed – i.e. we believe that where there are misperceptions, it is these that need to change and not the law. We also contend that evidence for certain proposed changes is weak and supported by poor impact assessments.”
Prof Löfstedt’s progress report can be found at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/lofstedt-report-one-year-on.pdf
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