This morning Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, made a major announcement on the Government's approach to health and safety. There will be an independent review of all health and safety legislation, the number of inspections will be cut by a third by focussing more tightly on high-risk sectors and those who manage risks poorly, and companies found to be putting people at risk will be charged for the cost of their inspection and follow-up action.
EEF has welcomed the announcement that builds upon the 'Common Sense, Common Safety' report produced by Lord Young last autumn.
Independent Review of Legislation
The Minister confirmed that Professor Ragnar Lofstedt, of Kings College Centre for Risk Management, has been appointed to lead an independent review looking at health and safety legislation with a particular remit to tackle duplication and unnecessary legislation. He is due to report in the Autumn.
This is a welcome step to review a whole regulatory area, rather than piecemeal changes to individual regulations. It provides the opportunity to identify duplications, inconsistencies and inefficiencies produced by layers of different regulations and is the kind of approach we are keen to see taken in other regulatory areas, including climate and environment.
Unlike the Young review, European legislation is very definately within scope. In answer to my question on this, Chris Grayling recognised that EU legislation is far too often disproportionate. He went on to indicate that the report will be made to both the UK government and European Commission and that he will be using it to inform negotiations. This is a particularly welcome development.
Modernising the inspection regime.
The Health and Safety Executive and Local Authorities will more tightly focus their proactive inspection – aiming at high hazard and high risk sectors as well as companies with poor records. This will result in 33% (11,000) fewer inspections by HSE. The Local Government Association today wrote to local authorities calling for a similar approach. However, HSE's enforcement policy will remain the same as will its activity in investigating complaints and injury reports.
A system - sometimes referred to as 'fee for fault' - will be introduced to charge companies for inspection and associated work if they are found to have significant failings (but not mere technical breaches). In principle it certainly makes sense that if someone is to pay, it should be the companies who are taking an unfair short-term advantage by putting employees at risk. Of course getting that targetting to work effectively in practice presents some challenges. We are already engaged with HSE on this and are expecting a consultation in the summer, with implementation of a system not expect until spring 2012 at the earliest.
Putting all of this together, good employers in most manufacturing sub-sectors can expect to see less of the regulator, but a company who does badly at an inspection can expect to be charged for the privilege and will receive a poor rating from the regulator, meaning they will be on the list for future visits.
Tackling the health and safety 'cowboys'
The Occupational Safety and Health Consultants' Register (OSCHR) goes live today, it has been created by a partnership between 5 professional organisations and the Health and Safety Executive. Businesses can now search an online directory of consultants who have degree level qualifications, at least 2 years experience, complete continual professional development and are subject to enforceable codes of conduct. 1600 consultants have been accepted on the register, including over 20 of EEF's own health and safety advisers who provide consultancy support and training to businesses.
Whilst not a legal requirement, registration is a strong indication of competence. However, the true test will be whether the professional organisations, who are responsible for policing the register, are prepared to be robust in tackling those who oversell their services or are excessively risk-averse. Without this, the register will bring no additional benefits.
Simplification of Compliance
Work will continue to help lower-risk small businesses comply with a minimum of fuss. Having already issued simplified guidance and risk assessment tools, HSE today launched a new microsite called 'Health and Safety Made Simple - the basics for your business.' This is something EEF has had input to through HSE's Small Business Trade Association Forum.
As ever, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but overall it was a welcome announcement that recognised the importance of effectively managing substantive risks, whilst avoiding disproportionate responses and unnecessary burdens. Or, as the Minister put it, 'tackling the rogue employers, whilst removing red tape from the vast majority of employers who play by the rules'.