84% less Health & Safety Law – Budget Commitment


Government pledge to reduce Health and Safety red tape in Budget

The 2012 Budget has heralded probably the biggest change in direction ever seen in Health & Safety legislation. The Government pledges to ‘scrap or improve’ 84% of Health and Safety legislation. Specifically, it plans to –

  • Introduce legislation in 2012 so that employers are no longer in breach of strict liability duties if they have done everything reasonably practicable and foreseeable to protect their employees.
  • Give the HSE the power to direct local authority health and safety inspection and enforcement activity, following a code that will be introduced in April 2013.
  • Make additional changes to the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR 1995) by October 2013 (it is already planned that from April 2012 the period an employee needs to have taken off work before an injury or accident is reported will be seven instead of three days).
  • Aim to start all health and safety prosecutions within three years of the incident.

The government has previously committed to many of these moves in its response to Professor Löfstedt’s review of health and safety regulation, but their scope is being extended. A Treasury spokesperson commented that 167 of the 199 health and safety regulations they have considered as part of the so-called Red Tape Challenge will either be withdrawn or improved.

The HSE also has the job of putting forward ideas to the European Commission for micro-exemptions, or lighter-touch health & safety regulation, for SMEs.

To help businesses make sense of this huge legislative streamlining exercise, the Budget requires the HSE website to distinguish between regulations that impose specific duties on businesses and those that define ‘administrative requirements’, or revoke or amend earlier versions of regulations. How they will actually do this has not been stated.
Another item that will be popular with businesses is the removal of the requirement for the HSE to approve the training and qualifications of appointed first-aid personnel. Guidance aimed at small businesses will be published in May, and the old provisions will be repealed by October.

A separate move that will affect health and safety issues is the Government’s agreement with the insurance industry which “commits to challenge vexatious civil claims in order to tackle the compensation culture” and aims to “ensure businesses have access to the right guidance and support”. Insurers will set out for SMEs “what is and is not required to demonstrate compliance with health and safety law when obtaining insurance cover”. Compensation claims are a bugbear for construction firms among others.

But the biggest news must be the potential removal of headline-grabbing cases where a firm has followed the rules and still is found liable for the foolish or reckless behaviour of staff, suppliers or the public. As one commentator put it, “removing strict liability will mean that the business will only have to be able to show they have done everything reasonably practicable to ensure the safety of its staff, in order to avoid prosecution. For insurers and their policy-holders, this should remove a potential unfairness in dealing with employers’ liability civil litigation and allow greater scope to defend such claims, provided strong safety regimes are evident.”

On the face of it, assuming that it is a genuine and carefully-managed bonfire of the thickets of regulations, then it is welcome news for the hard-pressed business, especially in highly-targeted sectors like construction. However it is unsurprising that the health & safety organisations are alarmed.

For example, Richard Jones, IOSH head of policy and public affairs, has issued this statement:

“The country needs clarity about how much ‘real’ change there’s actually going to be. Professor Löfstedt mentioned a 35 percent reduction, this immediately grew to more than 50 percent in the Government response to his review. And now, the figure is being heralded by the Treasury as 84 percent. It’s unhelpful to present ‘improvements’ and ‘scrapping’ as interchangeable, or to imply either are reducing duties or deregulating. The Government needs to say what proportion is improvement and what proportion is just removal of redundant regulations. There simply isn’t scope or need for radical change.”

These changes will take varying times to be introduced but the Government has set tight timescales and a lot is due to happen this year. Businesses that are confused about how to react and what actions to take should consult their local health and safety consultant from McCormack Benson Health & Safety, for practical advice and hands-on support through all the coming changes.