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September 10, 2012

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New statutory code to underpin inspection cuts

From April next year, low-risk businesses such as shops and offices will no longer be subject to proactive health and safety inspections unless a genuine employee complaint or notification of an actual incident is made to the HSE.

Exempting low-risk businesses from proactive inspections has been part of Government policy since March 2011, when former safety minister Chris Grayling launched the DWP framework, Good health and safety, Good for everyone.

While that document outlined plans to withdraw inspections from several “lower-risk” industries – including shops, offices, pubs and clubs – the Government is now intent on underpinning this policy with a new, binding statutory Code. Expected to be introduced in April 2013, the new Code will see the HSE direct all Local-Authority inspections, ruling out proactive inspections of low-risk businesses, while the Executive itself will be bound by the same principles.

The Government has stressed that businesses in high-risk areas, such as mining, construction, explosives, gas fitting and installation, diving, agricultural activities, offshore activities, chemical industries and nuclear installations will still be subject to proactive inspections. However, there has been controversy over the classification of certain sectors – in particular, the docks industry.

In a further measure to free businesses from the fear of a “compensation culture”, the Government will also introduce legislation next month to ensure that businesses will only be held liable for civil damages in health and safety cases if they can be shown to have acted negligently. The change to the ‘strict-liability principle’, which was first suggested by Professor Löfstedt last year, will end the current situation where businesses can automatically be liable for damages even if they are not found negligent in a court of law.

As a result of Professor Löfstedt’s findings, as well as last year’s Red Tape Challenge, the Government, in this year’s Budget, pledged to scrap or improve 85 per cent of health and safety regulations; change the law to help tackle the “compensation culture”; and free from health and safety law around 1 million self-employed people whose work poses no harm to others.

In further measures to boost the economy and encourage innovation, the Government has today announced that it will abolish, simplify, or reduce the burden of at least 3000 business regulations. It promises to have identified the regulations to be scrapped or overhauled by December next year.

Following the announcement, Business secretary Vince Cable said: “Removing unnecessary red tape and putting common sense back into areas like health and safety will reduce fears and costs for businesses. We want to help give British business the confidence it needs to create more jobs and support the wider economy to grow.”

The changes were backed by a number of business groups, including the Institute of Directors (IoD) and EEF. Alexander Ehmann, head of regulatory policy at the IoD, said: “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.”

Stephen Radley, director of policy at EEF, added: “Burdensome health and safety rules are a drag on business. Cutting back on them is vital. We welcome the Government’s firm commitment to limit the liabilities of companies acting responsibly. It is now critical these reforms are delivered.”

Union bodies were apoplectic at the announcement, and the entire union movement took the opportunity at this week’s TUC Congress to back a UCATT-led motion condemning the cuts forced on the HSE.

“Contrary to myths peddled by ministers, the UK is facing an occupational-health epidemic,” said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber. “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.”

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) expressed its concern at the way the Government is turning “common-sense discussions and debates into a series of media-grabbing ‘sound bites’”.

Graham Jukes, the group’s chief executive, clarified that the HSE has been focusing inspections on high-risk premises and operations for a number of years now. “While, currently, it is possible for low-risk businesses to face proactive health and safety inspection visits, either by local-authority or HSE inspectors, they are rare, or done in conjunction with other regulatory compliance checks in high-risk premises,” he pointed out.

IOSH also warned that there is not a lot that is ‘new’ in the announcement, but reiterated its concern that the cuts could result in a drop in standards.

Said its head of policy and public affairs, Richard Jones: “Cuts to inspections are concerning – HSE already take a risk-based approach, which we support. We also support the need for consistent and high-quality enforcement. However, we are concerned that businesses that currently benefit from proactive inspections and getting expert advice from ‘the horse’s mouth’ will lose out under this new regime. The end result is that standards may drop and more people are killed or injured.”
A consultation on the statutory Code for inspections will launch later this month.

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9 years ago

The government can cut as many regulations as they like. The HASAW Act 74 will still ensure the employer provides a safe place of work.
Most employers of small to medium businesses have never had an inspection from the LA or HSE and will only provide employees with better H&S standards when serious accidents occur or when they get caught out. Now there is an increase of days to notification of injury via RIDDOR it will be impossible for the Government to determine if de-regulation will ever work

9 years ago

Had a coffee in a cafe recently: Fire escape padlocked shut. Toilets upstairs on second floor via steep stairs with stuff stacked on them, mains radio balanced on steel sink, cupboards stacked on top with all sorts, split floor coverings, etc. etc.
Low risk so doesn’t warrant inspection….yeah…right!

9 years ago

So what is the difference between a Statutory Code and a Statutory Instrument?
(I assume it is different from an Approved Code of Practice?

My experience of routine inspections is, when done properly they cause little cost to industry but rather prevent potential hazards. It is the jobsworths inspectors who complain about the wrong colour red (not a perfect BS match) on a fire alarm etc. that cause the problems!

9 years ago

Once again Mr Cameron and co putting the blame on H&S for the problems most governments have created. Is this progress or a step back in time? What’s next? Children on workhouse treadmills or working a sweeps up chimneys. We already have to many small businesses and self employed persons who have no regard for safety of any sort.

9 years ago

What of a load of hot air from the present Government.
Their 855 alteration to H&S legislation amounts to revoking 12 regulations that are obsolete and amending two others.
Excempting businesses from inspections that currently don’t take place.
FFI – we charge you for material breeches on the ones we do inspect, another way of costing businesses money where friendly advice would have been the norm.
Lets face it this government is no different to any other, sounds too good to be true, be true

9 years ago

Rob, I fully agree that instead of giving a negative picture of H&S the governemnt would be far better off maikng sure that all business understand the importance of it.The role of safety advisor is hard enough without the governemnt adding fuel to the fire.

As noted by Phil, routine inspections are done to help things escalate into serious incidents and as with any business there are good and bad people within the role.

The government would be better off dealing with the blame/claim culture!

9 years ago

As the CIEH said, shops and offices being proactively inspected is a nonsense. This is just DC et al making something out of nothing. But this new stance will obviously put some at risk from employers who will say they don’t need to pay for ANY HS advice now.

What HM Gov should be doing is to reinforce how important HS is across all business and how the best practices it requires can aid production, rather than this constant barrage of negativity

9 years ago

We know that offices and shops etc may be ‘low risk’ working environments, but who decides what type of business activity is ‘medium risk’ therefore subject to HSE inspections. What about a small vehicle repair workshop or a small engineering workshop?. Often these small businesses do very little regards H & S. The small repair workshop owner with 10 employees may think ‘ this is a low risk workshop’ – Who decides?