Jennette Newman, partner in the safety, health and environment team at law firm Berrymans Lace Mawer, reviews the outcomes of the Löfstedt Report investigating health and safety regimes in the UK.
Ever since David Cameron’s advisor Lord Young labelled health and safety regulation a “music hall joke” in June last year, policymakers have been casting widely for ways and means of cutting back on red tape.
One of the outcomes of Lord Young’s report on compensation culture, published in October 2010, was the establishment of an independent review into how the burden of health and safety regulation could be reduced. The review, headed by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, the Director of the Centre of Risk Management at King’s College London, published its report, Reclaiming health and safety for all, on Monday 28th November. On the same day, the Government published its response. As well as accepting the report’s recommendations, the Government published a detailed implementation plan, which may have been drawn up in consultation with Professor Löfstedt behind the scenes. As a result, large changes are coming to the regulation of manufacturing over the next few years.
The Löfstedt Report is not as damning towards health and safety regulations as is being reported in some areas of the press. It states that the problem lies not so much in the regulations themselves as in the way that they have been interpreted and applied, with an over-prescriptive approach perhaps encouraged by health and safety consultants and regulators. Nevertheless, the Report recommends scrapping several redundant regulations (not any well-known ones however), and more importantly recommends a review of each and every strict liability regulatory provision to see whether no-fault liability is required by European law. The Report also impliedly criticises EU policy-makers for introducing regulations which have little scientific or evidential basis, and recommends a deeper engagement by theUKto ensure a more risk-orientated approach. There is a degree of irony in the Government’s acceptance of a recommendation to work more closely withEurope, given the Conservative Party’s expressed desire to repatriate powers over social policy. Furthermore British regulations will be consolidated, to prune back the confusing jumble of overlapping and often sector-specific regulations.
While manufacturers will not be affected by the Report’s headline-grabbing exemption of the self-employed from health and safety law, they should note that other recommendations will effect their operations. As a result of the passing of powers to enforce rules and coordinate inspections to the Health and Safety Executive form local authorities, there should be a more consistent and proportionate treatment of duty-holders. On top of this, the Government has announced that from January 1st 2012 a “challenge panel” will be set up to enable businesses to seek to overturn decisions by health and safety inspectors which they regard as wrong. There will be a marked need for this mechanism if, as expected in April 2012 , the HSE implements its proposed new charging model which recovers funding to the extent that inspectors finds employers in breach. The Government should ensure that the new panels are both robust and impartial in order to keep in check the tendency for this system to increase charges.
The degree to which Professor Löfstedt’s Report will act as a real catalyst for change in health and safety regulation will not be seen until 2014, by which time the process of legislative consultation and amendment should have run its course. However, the Report marks a serious and constructive effort to address the detrimental impact on economic activity of burdensome, bureaucratic and quite possibly unnecessary regulation which, as Professor Löftstedt’s independent analysis has now shown, is holding back economic growth.
Copies of the Löfstedt Report and the Government’s Response can be read on the DWP’s website at: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/policy/health-and-safety/