Sensible safety and a review of legislation

RoSPA has now submitted evidence to the Löfstedt Review team, in which I urged the members to take a broad and evidence-based approach to its task. I believe that they need to look for practical solutions which could help all businesses, including small firms, to meet their health and safety duties.

We have cautioned against reducing the number of regulations by merger purely for cosmetic reasons and political expediency – which will, in any case, be easily seen through. By focusing on how to help businesses – particularly smaller ones – meet their health and safety duties easily, cheaply and with a minimum of bureaucracy, the review team will do far more for the UK’s economy.

I have advised the team of the danger of making ad hoc and possibly haphazard changes without full consideration of the consequences.

Our submission made a number of proposals for practical measures that could be taken, including:

  • Giving lower-risk small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) the option of producing simple health and safety action plans based on the combined safety policy and risk assessment template already offered by the HSE
  • Encouraging third party “semi-regulators” (such as clients, insurers, investors, and training funders) to implement mediation procedures enabling firms to appeal against what they see as over-the-top requirements
  • Looking at lessons that can be learned from what has worked well in other industrialised countries and link this to wider efforts to promote effective health and safety regulation worldwide.

While accepting that there may be a case for removing repetitious duties in certain regulations (such as on risk assessment, information and training), we have urged the team to also look at where there may still be significant gaps in health and safety law (e.g. accident investigation and work-related road risk).

There may be a case for better regulatory housekeeping, but owners and managers in small firms do not read raw, undigested health and safety law. What they need is good guidance and above all competent advisers to point them in the right direction. The Löfstedt team needs to take a wider view of current challenges in health and safety and suggest imaginative solutions.

RoSPA has also urged that the review should encompass analysis of the health and safety aspect of the Government’s Red Tape Challenge and the HSE’s major programme for revising its inventory of more than 1,300 pieces of key guidance.

Health and safety law and standards are important and are essential to safeguard people’s lives and health. The existing legal structure and the underpinning guidance has been based on literally hundreds of thousands of hours of detailed research, development and consultation.

What worries us most about this review, though, is that it is being conducted at a time when the previous consensus of “good health and safety management is good for business” seems to be breaking down in favour of a view that it is a red tape burden on business.

Hopefully, as with previous reviews of regulation, Professor Löfstedt and his colleagues will confirm that it is balanced, well-structured and helps not only to save lives and safeguard health but also boost UK competitiveness.

Information about the review is available at www.dwp.gov.uk and RoSPA’s full submission will be uploaded to the RoSPA website in due course. Since 2007, RoSPA’s National Occupational Safety and Health Committee has been conducting an inquiry into health and safety help available to small firms. Full details are at www.rospa.com/occupationalsafety/adviceandinformation/smallfirmshealthandsafety/inquiry/.

Roger Bibbings, RoSPA’s occupational safety adviser

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