Reforming health and safety in the UK

For many years, companies, individuals, businesses and the media have been calling for the simplification of ‘elf and safety’ regulations, which not only lead to many businesses losing working hours due to red tape, but also cause problems due to over-complication.

As a result, in March this year, the government established an Independent Review of Health and Safety legislation to make proposals for simplifying the existing raft of health and safety legislation.

This review was chaired by leading risk management specialist Professor Ragnar Lofstedt, and the result – a report entitled Reclaiming health and safety for all: An independent review of health and safety regulation – was published on November 28th.

Professor Lofstedt’s report sets out a number of risk- and evidence-based recommendations that will aim to reduce regulatory requirements on businesses where they do not lead to improved health and safety outcomes.

It also aims to remove pressures on businesses to go beyond what the regulations require, enabling them to reclaim ownership of the management of health and safety.

The government has said it is “committed” to delivering the recommendations to the timetable suggested in the report, or earlier where possible, with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) now planning to develop an implementation plan with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and other government departments and agree milestones for action.

In addition to publishing regular progress updates on the DWP website, in a similar manner to the programme of work to deliver the Common Sense, Common Safety recommendations, the government will also keep businesses informed of any developments in health and safety law which can help firms to avoid work accident compensation and other legal issues.

As a result of the implementation of the recommendations and other government action already underway, the DWP said the experience of businesses will change “significantly” over the coming months and years.

Some of the changes will be made almost immediately as, by the summer of 2012, health and safety guidance for small businesses will be much simpler, with businesses receiving “simple and consistent” guidance from the HSE, professional bodies and insurers on whether and when they need to bring in expert health and safety advice.

In addition, low-risk businesses which manage their responsibilities properly will no longer be visited by inspectors, while legislation will be brought forward to abolish the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority.

By the year after next, self-employed people whose work poses no threat to others will be exempt from health and safety law, while approved Codes of Practice will give businesses clear and practical examples of how to comply with the law and unnecessary regulations will be revoked.

Finally, by 2014, a simpler accident reporting regime will be in place and, if the coalition is successful in influencing the planned review, EU health and safety legislation will in future be risk- and evidence-based.

In addition, HSE’s enhanced powers will help drive “consistent enforcement” for all businesses, regulations will be consolidated by industry sector, making it clear which provisions businesses need to comply with, and, perhaps most importantly, the total number of regulations will be reduced by 50 per cent.

Commenting on Professor Lofstedt’s report, Judith Hackitt, chair of the HSE, said it will go a long way to refocusing health and safety in Great Britain on “things that matter” and supporting those who want to “do the right thing”, as well as reducing rates of work-related death, injury and ill health.

She explained that it is vital to have a system of health and safety which enables employers to make “sensible and proportionate” decisions about managing genuine workplace risks.

“Simplifying and streamlining the stock of regulations, focusing enforcement on higher risk businesses, clarifying requirements, and rebalancing the civil litigation system – these are all practical, positive steps,” Ms Hackitt commented.

She added that poor regulation that adds “unnecessary bureaucracy” with no real benefits only serves to drive out confidence in good regulation.

“We welcome these reforms because they are good for workers and employers but also for the significant contribution they will make to restoring the rightful reputation of real health and safety. We will meet the timetable set by the government for implementing those recommendations for which it was responsible,” the HSE chair added.

In the new year, another government regulatory reform initiative, the Red Tape Challenge, will report on further possible changes to the stock of health and safety regulations.

Posted by Trevor Baker

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Reforming health and safety in the UK
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