Government must do more to ensure Health and Safety works for business

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This Tuesday sees the opening of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) 64th annual conference, under the theme of ‘Fit for the Future'. Of course, being fit for the future does not simply refer to the physical wellbeing of employees and employers but also the health of businesses themselves, which are constantly seeking to innovate and grow. One major barrier to these endeavours is the cost of doing business when dealing with regulation, particularly in the case of health and safety, although there are promising signs that management is becoming more involved complying with it.

In its latest annual health and safety report, ‘Making Health and Safety Work for Business: removing unnecessary Health and Safety burdens', EEF outlines its ambition to reduce the cost to business of dealing with health and safety requirements. Manufacturing in particular faces many challenges from regulation, but EEF welcomes the report's findings that the management are increasingly taking health and safety seriously.

Over 200 manufacturers were surveyed for the report, which first and foremost shows promise for the future of health and safety. The level of management involvement in health and safety matters now exceeds 90% for most measures, and the number of reportable injuries, 398 per 100,000 employed, was considerably lower than the HSE's own data for the manufacturing sector, 550 for 100,000 employed (2011/12).

However, there has been a concerning decline in certain aspects of the annual report and a number of ongoing concerns in the industry that government urgently needs to address. By and large industry relationships with regulators remain positive, but have also continued to decline over successive EEF surveys since 2008. Just over half (55%) of respondents viewed their relationship with the regulator as positive, a significant drop from 75% in 2008. Manufacturers were generally positive about the effects of health and safety requirements and regulatory burdens, although seven in ten had experienced an increase in costs and almost eight in ten an increase in time spent on health and safety compliance in the past three years.

The report's findings are especially timely with European regulation currently high on the agenda, namely with regards to the Prime Minister's pledge to cut red tape. For example, companies saw no need for a Musculoskeletal Directive, with 64% believing that the existing Display Screen Equipment (DSE) and Manual Handling (MH) regulations were fit for purpose and did not need updating.

EEF is calling on the government to become more active in its involvement with Europe on delivering proportionate health and safety directives, reform UK health and safety regulation which impose strict ‘liability' under criminal law, and explore the feasibility of bringing Health and Safety enforcement completely under the umbrella of a single organisation. It is essential that management continue to view health and safety regulation as beneficial to their business, but this can only be achieved with a reduction in the number of regulations on the statute book and, in turn, the time and money spent complying with them.

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