Common Sense Returns to Health and Safety
A government review of health and safety laws has found that straightforward legislation designed to protect people from major hazards has been extended inappropriately to cover every walk of life, no matter how low risk.
Lord Young’s report on health and safety, entitled Common Sense – Common Safety, was published recently and identified numerous factors that currently combine to create an adverse climate for what it considers to be the proper application of health and safety. The report also sets out recommendations to free businesses from unnecessary bureaucratic burdens and the fear of having to pay out unjustified damages claims and legal fees. These include measures aimed at curbing the ‘compensation culture’ driven by legislation, which Lord Young sees as being at the root of the problem.
With regard to workplace health and safety laws, the report recognises that the cost of compliance differs significantly between smaller and larger firms, with the burden falling disproportionately on smaller employers. Lord Young recommends that:
- The risk assessment procedure for low hazard workplaces, such as offices and shops, should be simplified. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) should create simpler interactive risk assessments for such workplaces and make these available on its website;
- The HSE should create periodic checklists that enable businesses operating in low hazard environments to check and record their compliance with the law, as well as online video demonstrations of best practice in form completion;
- Employers should be exempt from having to carry out risk assessments for employees working from home in a low risk environment; and;
- Self-employed people working in low hazard businesses should be exempt from having to carry out risk assessments.
He also recommends that insurance companies actively reconsider the practice of routinely requiring businesses to employ health and safety consultants, as this creates an unnecessary burden and increases costs, without bringing any tangible business benefits.
In order to raise standards, the report recommends a new professional qualification requirement for all health and safety consultants, so that they are accredited by a professional body. Where businesses do choose to employ a consultant, it recommends that only qualified consultants who are included in a web-based directory be used.
As regards health and safety legislation, the HSE should produce a separate Code of Practice for small- and medium-sized businesses engaged in lower risk activities, and the current raft of health and safety regulations should be consolidated into a single set of accessible regulations. The report also recommends amending the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) by extending to seven days the period before an injury or accident needs to be reported. In addition, the HSE should carry out a review of the operation of the RIDDOR in order to determine whether this is the best way of providing accurate statistics on workplace accidents. All of these proposed changes are currently being discussed with a view to implementing them as soon as possible.
The full report can be found at http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130104180141/http://www.number10.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/402906_CommonSense_acc.pdf.
James Johnston is a health and safety solicitor at Burnetts. For further information contact James on 01228 552222 or at email@example.com
James is hosting a free lunchtime briefing on the impact of Lord Young’s report on Tuesday 5th April at Westlakes Science Park and on Tues 15th November in Gosforth, Newcastle. For further information visit the events pages ofwww.burnetts.co.uk.
About the author
James is a Partner and Head of the firm’s Dispute Resolution team.