Fewer Health and Safety Inspections – Unless you’re in Construction
The BBC has reported on Government plans to exempt thousands of businesses from health and safety inspections by the HSE or Local Authorities.
From April 2013 the regulations will be altered and what were described as ‘burdensome inspections’ will no longer take place on locations that are categorised as ‘low risk’. Business Minister Michael Fallon said that shops, offices, pubs and clubs will not face routine health and safety inspections.
It is part of the continuing drive by the Coalition to scrap or change over 3,000 Health & Safety regulations, ‘cutting red tape by half’: it claims that the reduced bureaucracy will save businesses millions of pounds a year.
This will be seen as an overall victory for those who decry excessive or business-unfriendly regulation: but for those in the building trade it foreshadows an increasing attention by the authorities on their sector.
Trade unions have criticised the announcement, saying that this change could risk the safety of employees and customers alike.
“This isn’t about cutting red tape, it’s about cutting the throat of safety regulations”
This is not an industrialist speaking, it is Bob Crow, leader of the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union. He claims the move will bring “lethal consequences for workers and the public alike as businesses are given the green light to cut corners”.
He says “Vince Cable’s set of plans will drag the clock back and goes hand in hand with massive cuts to the enforcement arm of the health and safety executive”.
Mr Crow claims that unions will mobilise a massive campaign of resistance to this move.
Open for Business?
There are economic pressures for Britain to be ‘open for business’ to foreign investment and part of that competitive edge might be the creation of a more flexible labour market when compared to Continental Europe. Although Mr Fallon admitted that the new regulations would also include changes to rules on employment, he denied that they would reduce job security: “We’re not going back to ‘fire at will’, where somebody can be fired just because you don’t like them,” he said, adding that their goal was to encourage negotiated settlements between firms and their workers, rather than resorting to industrial tribunals.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said businesses need to focus on creating jobs and grow: “I’ve listened to those concerns and we’re determined to put common sense back into areas like health and safety, which will reduce costs and fear of burdensome inspections.”
Construction H&S singled out
From next April, businesses will only need to expect visits from health and safety inspectors if they are classified as being higher-risk, which very much includes construction, or in other sectors if the firm has recently suffered an accident or has a track record of poor performance.
Further health and safety legislation is promised in October: this is a fast-moving scene at present. New laws aim to ensure that businesses will only be held liable for civil damages in health and safety cases if they can be shown to have acted negligently. This puts more onus on the individual to take the right precautions and in cases where the firm has taken all reasonable safety measures and carried out training, it is a move that will be welcomed by many managers and owners.
Alexander Ehmann, head of regulatory policy at the Institute of Directors, welcomed the news if it truly marked “the beginning, not the end, of the deregulation story. Excessive regulation costs time and money, both of which businesses would rather spend on developing new products, hiring staff and building up British business both here and abroad.”
The British and multinational construction firms that make up an important part of the economy will not be able to celebrate the moves quite as much as some others. Meanwhile health and safety consultants, especially those like McCormack Benson Health & Safety that specialise in the building trades, will reflect that they are likely to be more rather than less busy come April next year.