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November 23, 2011

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Health and safety requirements to be relaxed to boost apprenticeships

From the start of next year, training providers and employers offering apprenticeships will no longer have to comply with any requirements that go ‘above and beyond’ health and safety legislation.

Announcing new measures last week as part of the Government’s Plan for Growth, Business secretary Vince Cable said red tape that can deter employers from taking on apprentices would be slashed. 

At present, the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) expects training providers and the employers they work with to meet not only the health and safety standards required for all employees but also additional requirements for apprentices.

The changes announced by Mr Cable, which also include financial incentives for small firms to offer apprenticeships, will see health and safety requirements streamlined so that there are no additional demands on employers that already comply with legislation and national standards.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) told SHP that these additional requirements are burdensome for all employers, but particularly for smaller businesses. He continued: “For example, rolling health and safety assessment together automatically with self-assessment of learning imposes a potential burden on the employer to review risk assessments where this would not otherwise be required.”

The health and safety regime for apprentices administered by the SFA was introduced in response to nine work-related fatalities among apprentices in 2003. In a House of Commons debate in July, Labour MP John McDonnell said this spate of incidents had led to the appointment of a team of staff at the Learning and Skills Council, and later the SFA, who would go into firms where apprentices were placed and carry out a health and safety assessment.

Mr McDonnell told the House: “In that way, we reduced nine fatalities a year to none. . . Since securing health and safety protection for apprentices we have maintained an excellent record, but there is a tragedy waiting to happen. The very staff whom the previous Government appointed – a small unit of 25 in the Skills Funding Agency – are to be sacked in September.” (SHP has asked the Department for Business if the 25 posts at the SFA have been abolished and is awaiting a reply.)

Soon after the Commons debate, an Early Day Motion (EDM), tabled by Jim Cunningham MP, said the cuts would result in “the axing of all 25 posts responsible for assuring health and safety assessments of workplaces offering apprenticeships”. The motion also “rejects the Government’s claim that the HSE, which is facing a 35-per-cent cut to 2014-15, will be able to assume this responsibility without detriment to the assessment regime required to protect apprentices from dangerous workplaces”.

Commenting on the new measures, Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “For some time we have been telling ministers that small firms must be incentivised to take on apprentices, so we welcome the Government’s moves to strip away some of the obstacles that have made it hard for smaller firms to get engaged.

“Health and safety constraints, inflexible teaching frameworks, and high up-front costs often deter companies from taking on apprentices. By reducing red tape, and incentivising firms to take the plunge, the Government is offering real help to firms and apprentices alike.”

Mr Cable insisted the changes to the regime would not reduce quality, saying: “Apprenticeships are proven to boost the life chances of young people, and are a sound investment in our future competitiveness. So, when times are tough, it’s right that we provide additional support to help the smallest firms meet training costs.
“We’ll cut no corners on quality. Apprenticeships will remain the gold standard for excellence in vocational training – but where red tape serves no purpose, we’ll strip it away.”

IOSH said it welcomed efforts to encourage more high-quality apprenticeships, but regretted that health and safety was again being portrayed as a hindrance. Head of policy and public affairs Richard Jones said: “It’s very disappointing that health and safety is yet again being misrepresented as a barrier, when, in reality, it’s an enabler, ensuring positive outcomes and successful careers. We are not aware of the additional requirements that are being referred to.
“Inexperienced workers are more at risk of workplace accidents and need to be properly trained and supervised. This is nothing to do with ‘red tape’ – it’s just common sense and sensible preservation of life and limb. Sadly, over the last decade, we’ve seen, on average, five under-19-year-olds killed at work; 1257 major injuries and 3917 over-three-day injuries annually. We need to do better than this.”

An HSE spokesperson said it was not in a position to comment on the EDM’s suggestion. However, the spokesperson highlighted that the HSE website holds a lot of safety information for employers about work experience and employing young people, adding: “Under health and safety law, you must assess the risks to young people under 18 years old, before they start work/work experience, and tell them what the risks are.

“You must let the parents/guardians of any students (and employees) below minimum school-leaving age know the key findings of the risk assessment and the control measures taken before the young people start work/work experience.”

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I agree with the other contributors. I also add that employers were not required to roll h & s assessments in with the self-assessment of learning (though effective learning and good standards of h & s do go hand in hand). Providers merely had to make reasonable checks that h & s was being managed appropriately by employers prior to placing young people on apprenticeships (As a parent, and with experience of the aftermath of a death involving a young person, I would commend such an approach!).


This is interesting in the light of discussions yesterday.


The national LSC H&S team came together when the then Training & Enterprise Councils were abolished in 2001. Hence, we were already in place in 2003, but were undergoing changes, once again via political presure, who were trying to prevent us from carrying out assurance visits to providers to, obstensibly, cut down on bureacracy. Here we go again!


whilst it is true that the SFA staff are leaving at the end of December the actual vetting of workplaces for apprentices and work experience has always fallen to the training providers drawing down funding for training from the SFA. As a contractual agreement to recieve funding all learning has to take place in a safe and healthey environment. checked against standards set by the SFA. Organisations frequently do not comply with legislation and advice is given to help them achive this standard.


It’s probably something to with self employed people who pose no risk to themselves or others !!! – Beam Me Up


I agree with Dave. I visit many SME’s eachyear to assess for apprnticeship placements, and most are fully compliant and do not object to seeing me. Those few that may have one or two things not fully compliant or missing, welcome the fact we visit and advise them accordingly.

In this way, providers supply a service as well as ensuring safe workplaces are available for young people.


It appears that once again the Minister has been misadvised about the role of the LSC/SFA and their providers. The Agency H&S teams have never visited employers to carry out work place assessments, they ensured providers did this in order to meet their duty of care under S3 of the HASAWA. The providers also support employers, particularly SME’s in meeting their S2 duties. Saving the lives of YP’s is obviously a burden on employers!


I just wonder whether this will send out the wrong message to small businesses who are not so diligent in their safety provision, just see the headline and not the rest!


What lunacy! Young people are precisely those who need extra safe-guards; they have no knowledge or experience of the workplace, they have grown up on cartoons and animes where the main characters do dreadful things to each other and bounce back up to fight another day, and where CGI can enhance anything. Cartoons cannot show the pain experienced in having an injury. They need to be show gruesome photos of accident victims to give them a reality check. They think they can do anything!


In my experience with my son having done an apprentiship as a carpenter and initially working on a building site/new builds and then with a one man band H&S is not very high on the agenda for either of them. Admittedly he was not a ‘young worker’ so didn’t come under the duties of additional care requirement but even so I doubt either of his employers had a risk assessment between them from the stories I heard let alone consideration of any hazards to inexperienced people let alone youngsters.


Well said Rita, this is nothing new, even the Romans had the same problem!

Governor of Britannia between AD62/2-AD63 once quoted:
We trained hard – but it seemed every time we were beginning to form up into teams we were reorganised.
I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while actually producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation!


Whoa, I agree with the comment about the SFA but not the LSC, the “Safe Leaner Concept” or blue print was very good indeed.


Careful, it’s only a minority of small businesses that are not so diligent. We carry out 100’s of H&S reviews for funded training (work experience/placements/apprenticeships) with SME’s and the majority of them are acceptable, if not good or better.


I wonder if the notion of above and beyond the existing requirements on EMPLOYERS indicates that the requirements on organisers will be scrapped. Previous best practice advice anticipated that most of the work to prepare apprentices, and other learners, takes place before they arrive at the employer.


What on earth does ‘above and beyond mean? ‘Its maturity stupid’


It is good news to hear that most are fully compliant but we are talking about the SFA taking a backward step to what are their responsibities. The onus is not purely on Training Providers to assess. As party the contractual arrangements with providers the SFA also has a Duty of Care to the apprentice in so far as verification providers are assessing placements for H&S. One of the causation factors in 2003 was the LSC decided H&S was nothing to do with them and failed to monitor providers.


Sorry 2003 not 1993. Just to add I cannot understand why ministers are of the opinion that Health and Safety is a ‘burden’ on employers and somehow restricts the Governments Growth Plan. Nonsense. The LSC stance was learners are entitled to a safe, healthy and supportive learning environment but it seems the SFA are of the opinion they are not party to the arrangements for ensuring apprentices Health and Safety. The HSE are sitting on the fence. Should an inspector make a call on the SFA?


The question is now the the SFA has no competent Health and Safety staff who will monitor the Training Providers? Training Providers and Employers never had to go above and beyond H&S Legislation but simply had to meet minimum standards to comply with the law. The LSC/SFA have always wanted to water down health and safety but seems to not want to know and dispute they also have a Duty of Care under S3 of the HASAWA. Have they learned nothing from 1993. Sadly not.


I don’t know know of any requirements in the training of apprentices that go ‘above and beyond’ health and safety legislation.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 deals with young persons under regulation 19 (Protection of young persons) parts 2, 3 and 4.

There are many employers of trainees and apprentices who don’t even comply with these Regulations let alone the above and beyond bit.