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November 8, 2011

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Lighter-touch regulation could muddy the waters, admits business lobby

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) is concerned by the prospect of an “increasing disconnect” between the HSE and businesses operating in lower or medium-risk sectors, but still wants lighter-touch regulation of such companies.

Giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee – which is currently conducting an inquiry into the health and safety system in Scotland – the pro-business organisation highlighted the dilemma that scaling back HSE inspections could be coupled with less information for lower-risk businesses, resulting in such firms developing a negative and false impression of the impact of health and safety regulations.

Speaking to the Committee on 26 October, the SCC’s head of policy and public affairs, Garry Clark, told MPs that larger companies often have good and long-standing relationships with the HSE, and are backed by teams of dedicated health and safety staff; by contrast, smaller firms rarely have such support.

He said: “If [the HSE] are reducing their budgets on the promotion and marketing of their work – for example – it will make that job more difficult. It will make businesses more likely to have false perceptions of the weight of health and safety legislation and what impact it could have on their business.”

This suggestion that curbs on regulatory inspections could actually cloud the legislative landscape for lower-risk firms and smaller businesses, rather than freeing them to expand and take on staff, would seem to blow a big hole in the Government’s policy on reducing so-called health and safety red tape.

The SCC also believes that negative perceptions of health and safety regulations could be exacerbated by the HSE’s cost-recovery proposals. Mr Clark explained: “In terms of cost-recovery issues, that is one area where some of our members have said they are detecting a change in attitude from the HSE – from a more positive engagement approach toward a more nit-picking approach, which they have not welcomed.”

Echoing Mr Clark’s comments, Phil Scott, safety and risk policy manager at the Chemical Industries Association (CIA), told MPs: “I think there will be a change in the relationship between HSE inspectors and industry. There will be less clarity about when an inspector will come, what they will be looking at, and whether or not there will be a charge at the end. Most small to medium-sized businesses will not have a budget for this, so they will be faced with charges at a month’s notice, on a month’s invoice. They could be paying quite significant sums of money.”

Mr Scott also raised the Association’s concerns that cost recovery could make the UK’s chemical industry uncompetitive in the global market. He told the Committee: “Cost recovery is one of a number of factors that can make investment in the UK slightly less attractive in a global chemical market. Seventy-five per cent of our CIA members are foreign-headquartered – it can make it slightly less attractive to invest in the UK than elsewhere because of things like cost recovery and delays in obtaining consents for hazardous substances.”

The Committee is due to take evidence from the National Farming Union Scotland, the Mineral Products Association, and Oil & Gas UK tomorrow (9 November).

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12 years ago

In 09-10, there were 2 x the number of fatalities in Scotland than in Eng-Wales & prosecutions were halved to 43.

SCC comments indicate existing HSW failings by the volume of concern regarding potential HSE recovery costs.

Given the reluctance of COPFS to procecute unless in the public interest (costs not recoverable), these new proposals are advantageous to only one party.

Bit of a chiken and egg connundrum me thinks?

COSHH is not an issue of concern though, refer to ma pal the PM.