Monday 28 November 2011

Government vows to restore clarity to health and safety regime

The Government has announced an immediate consultation on the abolition, consolidation and further review of large numbers of health and safety regulations and aims to remove the first rules from the statute books within a few months.

The announcement follows the publication today (28 November) of Professor Ragnar Löfstedt’s review of health and safety legislation and the Government’s response.

A major change is the establishment from 1 January of a new challenge panel, which will allow businesses to get the decisions of health and safety inspectors overturned immediately if they have got it wrong. However, a DWP spokesperson confirmed to SHP that this is the Government’s interpretation of a specific recommendation in the report, which made no mention of inspectors’ decisions being challenged; rather, Professor Löfstedt proposes that the Government look at introducing a challenge mechanism that allows for cases of incorrect and over-application of health and safety legislation to be addressed.

In general, Prof Löfstedt found that the problem lies less with the regulations themselves and more with the way they are interpreted and applied. Nevertheless, noting that the sheer mass of laws is a key concern for businesses, the report recommends that the HSE undertakes and completes a programme to consolidate sector-specific regulations by April 2015.

In supporting the recommendation, the Government said that, combined with ongoing HSE plans, the consolidation programme would reduce the number of health and safety regulations by more than 50 per cent.

The HSE has also been told to draw up proposals for changing the law to remove health and safety burdens from the self-employed in low-risk occupations, and whose activities represent no risk to other people. The Government said this would bring Britain in line with other European countries and will free around 1 million people from “red tape without impacting on health and safety outcomes”.

It also insisted that where activities of self-employed people could pose a risk to themselves or others – for example, in the building trades – health and safety laws would continue to apply.

Very few laws are to be revoked, but those identified as strong candidates for the scrapheap include the Notification of Tower Cranes Regulations 2010 – because there is no evidence of quantifiable benefits to health and safety outcomes – and the Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989 – because they duplicate the responsibilities set out in the PPE Regulations 1992.

The review also recommends amendments to a number of regulations, including: the Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 – to remove the requirement for the HSE to approve the training and qualifications of appointed first-aid personnel; RIDDOR 1995 – to provide clarity for businesses on how to comply; and the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 – regarding the regularity of PAT testing.

In addition, to provide further clarity, especially for smaller businesses, the HSE is recommended to review all its Approved Codes of Practice, and to have completed an initial review phase by June next year.

The role of the HSE in relation to local authorities should also be significantly strengthened, says Professor Löfstedt, not only to address inconsistencies in enforcement but also to ensure it is targeted at workplaces that present the highest risks.

Despite all this extra work sent its way, the HSE said it would meet the timescale for completing all recommendations for which it is responsible. However, asked if the regulator will be given more resources to carry out its expanded role, a DWP spokesperson said it could not comment on budget issues at present.

Professor Löfstedt said: “A transfer of responsibility to HSE may risk losing the synergies with other local-authority enforcement responsibilities but it will ensure that activity is independent of local priorities and concerns and clarify the distinction between health and safety and other regulatory issues, such as food safety and environmental protection. This will, in turn, provide greater assurance and consistency for businesses.”

On Europe, the Professor found no evidence of gold-plating but conceded that the scope for changing health and safety regulation is severely limited by the requirement to implement EU law. His report nevertheless recommends that the Government works more closely with the European Commission – particularly during the planned review of EU health and safety legislation in 2013 – to ensure that both new and existing EU health and safety legislation is risk-based and evidence-based.

Finally, while recognising that the Government is in the midst of undertaking an overhaul of the civil justice system, the review also says the status of pre-action protocols needs to be clarified and strict liability provisions should be reviewed. The Professor found that, often, employers are encouraged to settle compensation claims if all the paperwork related to pre-action standard disclosure lists is not in place, regardless of their overall compliance record and despite the fact that minor non-compliance should not be viewed too strictly.

IOSH said it supported the streamlining and simplification of regulations but is keen to find out how the Government intends to reduce the number by half without increasing the risks to workers and members of public.

Speaking at the launch of the review in Whitehall this morning, the Institution's chief executive, Rob Strange OBE, said: "We are also concerned about the proposed exemption of self-employed people from health and safety obligations. This approach seems to contradict the development of a more risk-aware society, which the report is keen to promote."

The TUC described the report as “a missed opportunity” to consider positive steps to improve Britain’s health and safety record.

Its general secretary Brendan Barber said: “There is little doubt that removing the self-employed from the regulations will increase their risk of illness and injury and lead to a rise in the number of bogus self-employed in sectors like construction.”

Acting general secretary of UCATT George Guy added: “This proposal from Löfstedt would be disastrous if implemented in the construction industry. Workers would not know if they were covered by safety legislation. While, companies would try to divest themselves of safety duties, by increasing the number of false self-employed workers. Already construction companies all too often fail to comply with basic safety legislation and this proposal will make a bad situation far worse.”

EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation welcomed the report, not least the call on the Government to take action at a European level.

On the challenge panel, the body’s head of health and safety, Terry Woolmer, added: “This is a welcome step which will allow businesses to get the decisions of health and safety inspectors overturned immediately if they have got it wrong. However, it is unclear how this will work alongside the existing appeals process for enforcement notices, or the intended appeals process to be set up as part of HSE’s proposals for cost recovery and ‘fees for intervention’. Perhaps more thought is required before this is implemented.”

To download the full report, Reclaiming health and safety for all: An independent review of health and safety regulation, go to:

Source: SHP

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