29. July 2010 15:18
At the beginning of 2010 we had the serious prospect of an additional health and safety duty on company directors. Barely six months later and the talk is of stopping inspections to low risk premises and rolling back legislation. So what has changed and what does Lord Young have in mind?
The election of a new government is certainly a key difference, but the issues do not split neatly along party political lines. I think it fair to say that the previous minister, Lord McKenzie, was not a fan of a new duty on directors - though he was under great pressure to act. HSE remained agnostic on the issue and both minister and regulator were taking action to simplify compliance and stop excessive risk-aversion. The difference then is a change of emphasis and the momentum and ambition that a big-hitter like Lord Young brings to the topic.
David Young was a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet, and famously the man she liked ‘because he brings me solutions not problems’. Early in 2010 he was appointed by David Cameron to lead a major review of health and safety; no explicit remit was given, but the focus was clearly on stopping unnecessary 'requirements' getting in the way of business and life.
When I met with Lord Young Back in April it was still an opposition party initiative. Soon after with the formation of the coalition it was given the status of a government review.
So what is the review looking at? Well there are a number of threads:
- Making it easier for lower risk businesses to comply by simplifying or even dis-applying requirements. Realistically exempting companies from health and safety law is likely to be a step too far given that much originates from EU legislation.
- Stopping inspection of low risk premises - for example offices, shops and restaurants. Lord Young has been clear that he believes in inspection of construction, major hazards, or indeed factories, but we could see an end to anomolies like head offices getting more inspections than their factories.
- Amending the burden of proof in civil law to make it harder to claim compensation for injury. This could well focus on situations where the injured person was largely to blame or the company has taken reasonable steps but maybe not fully documented them.
- Introducing formal accreditation of health and safety consultants. We support improvements to the current voluntary accreditations by professional bodies, but are a lot less keen on a statutory requirement – that could result in businesses paying more for the same services.
- Stopping health and safety getting in the way of action by the blue light services when dealing with emergencies. It is possible that they could be exempted from some legislation, but there is a strong emphasis on stopping misuse and misapplication of the requirements.
We expect the report will be published at the end of August or early in September. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll use this blog to unpick some of the issues that have the greatest impact on businesses. If you want to stay abreast of developments on this and other issues – click on 'subscribe to our blog' at the top right of the page.