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What recent changes in health and safety mean for your business: a consultant’s perspective

The Forum's adviser on health and safety issues, Martin Mulholland, gives his views on recent changes to health and safety legislation and explains what you can do to create a safer workplace.

There has been a lot of publicity regarding the government’s efforts to deregulate health and safety in the workplace. Granted, there is always room for a fresh look at what goes on to make sure that it is still fit for purpose, just like any system. However, there seems to be a lot of political and media point scoring using health and safety as a handy scapegoat. So what are the facts?

The government’s Löfstedt Review in 2011 was based on the theory that “there’s too much health and safety legislation”. The reality is that the amount of health and safety regulation has actually reduced over the past few decades. There is 46% less health and safety regulation than 35 years ago and 37% less than just 15 years ago. Also, those regulations that have been recently scrapped were outdated or otherwise unenforced and the review pronounced the majority of existing health and safety regulation as fit for purpose.

Beware complacency

The recent removal of strict liability (part of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill) for accidents that are not an employer’s fault or are unavoidable is misleading. There exists a common perception that accidents ‘just happen’. However, the reality is that the majority of accidents are foreseeable – and thus preventable. This being the case, employers should beware of being complacent – if they are foreseeable and yet still occur then liability is still firmly on the agenda. Remember - failure in managing health and safety is both a criminal and a civil law offence.

However, let’s assume that there was an accident that had never occurred anywhere else in the world, ever (i.e. “unforseeable”). The accident, especially if serious, may still be investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who now operate a Fee for Intervention (FFI) process whereby they charge for an investigation at a rate of at £124 per hour, regardless of whose fault it is.

How to protect your business

The thing to concentrate on is that many organisations are falling way short of what they need to be doing to comply with the law. If an employer fails to establish an effective health and safety management system then this can result in serious accidents, fines, costs, loss of reputation, etc.

The only way to effectively reduce liability is to understand the laws affecting your organisation, to establish a management system to control the risks and to ensure that all those involved are suitably trained, provided with suitable work equipment and working conditions and understand what is required of them.

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