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‘Common sense’ approach to health and safety welcomed by lobby group

The Forum of Private Business has described changes agreed this week to work place health and safety as a landmark moment for SMEs and a long-awaited victory for common sense.

The not-for-profit business support organisation says the removal of strict liability for employers, finally agreed by the Lords on Tuesday evening, not only means H&S becomes a less burdensome task for employers, but should help make workplaces across the country safer.

Removal of strict liability means businesses cannot be held responsible for accidents either not their fault, or unavoidable. It said the new focus on making employees more aware and responsible for their own actions was something its own research had shown strong support for from small business owners.

The new measures had been due to come in to being on April 6 as part of the common commencement date (CCD), but was held up by the House of Lords who'd asked MPs to reconsider the change, which were part of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. But Parliament rejected these calls, and on Tuesday the Lords finally agreed the measures, which will now take effect on the next CCD, October 1.

"This is a deregulatory measure which means as long as an employer takes reasonable steps on H&S then they shouldn't be subject to prosecution for things they couldn't possibly have predicted or prevented," said the Forum's Head of Policy, Alex Jackman. 

"It's a fact of life that accidents, unfortunately, sometimes do just happen with nothing that can be done to prevent them. This new approach to H&S goes a long way to recognising this.

"For too long the entire onus has been on the employer as part of a blame-game approach that has cost business millions, and has also tarnished people's view of what's a very serious and important subject.

"People have lost faith in health and safety, with organisations such as the Health and Safety Executive pilloried in the media, but along the way that's dangerously undermined the issue in the eye's of the nation.

"We hope this new approach can help rebuild and restore faith and trust in workplace health and safety, while at the same time freeing business to get on with trading during difficult economic times."

Twice a year the Forum updates its health and safety guide to help business remain legally compliant. But it's warned while the new changes come in to effect  in October, businesses still have a duty of care, much the same as now.

"While these changes are welcome, business owners must not be lulled in to a false mindset that they are no longer governed by H&S requirements, or that their duty as an employer has ended. It hasn't – and this is a dangerous way of thinking. The average cost of a H&S investigation after a breach of regulations is £20,000, so it's very much the case of prevention always being better than cure."

If you'd like to buy a copy of the Forum's most up to date Health and Safety Guide, contact our helpline team on 0845 1301 722.

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