Regulation update: health and safety

Are we any closer to a common sense approach to health and safety asks Sally Roff, partner at international law firm DAC Beachcroft.

It was October 2010 when Lord Young produced his report for government, recommending legislative and practical changes to tackle the heavy handed approach of regulators and relieve the perceived burden of over regulation in relation to safety issues.

The message from that report? Health and safety is important and must be maintained but it is for business to determine how it does that and over regulation is taking up time that could be better spent managing risk within business. Lord Young also felt there should be a simpler approach to managing injury claims which adequately compensates an injured person without large sums of money having to be paid to solicitors. Finally Lord Young called for a campaign to change the public perception of health and safety.

A year on and there have been further developments – some springing directly out of Lord Young’s recommendations, others likely to impact on Lord Young’s vision for a common sense approach to safety.

  • Professor Lofstedt was engaged to review health and safety legislation in the UK, in particular to consider what regulations could be simplified or abolished and what lessons could be learned from other jurisdictions. Importantly, he was also tasked with identifying possible links between regulation and positive health and safety outcomes. His report is due this autumn but as yet there is no publication date available
  • The Red Tape Challenge was launched by Government as a mechanism for people and businesses to “have their say” about a variety of regulation areas
  • Some specific recommendations from Lord Young’s report included the creation of a managed database of health and safety consultants which has been introduced, allowing businesses to engage practitioners who have (to some extent) been accredited by HSE and also for simplification of risk assessment processes required for “low hazard” businesses
  • As part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, HSE announced this autumn that it would undergo 35% cuts by 2014/2015 and made a public announcement that “In seeking to achieve savings of at least 35 per cent over the SR10 period, [it] will share more of the cost with those businesses which create risks, while reducing burdens on low-risk businesses.” Information provided to date has been that, in addition to focusing on higher risk businesses (including those businesses with poor safety records), HSE will be looking to introduce a system of charging for its services where an inspection identifies health and safety issues and advice or further input are required
  • A second corporate manslaughter prosecution was brought in July 2011 by the Crown Prosecution Service against another small business. The view of practitioners is that little will be learned about the true potential of the Act in prosecuting major disasters from this second case

What do these developments mean for manufacturing businesses?

Generally considered as higher risk, manufacturers should not hold out hope that Lord Young’s proposals will eradicate visits from HSE, local authorities or reduce the threat of a prosecution if serious risks are identified. However, HSE is likely to focus on inspection and liaison with those businesses which are performing poorly.

The cuts within HSE will affect its ability to provide real advisory services or to run safety campaigns. In addition, where such services are provided, it seems likely that, going forward, it is businesses which may have to pick up the tab.

Anything that a business can do to create a good working relationship with HSE and to reassure it of the business’s good safety systems is likely to mean less expenditure of time and money on necessary inspections. The result should be win-win in that money and resource can be focused on improving standards rather than dealing with regulator bureaucracy.