Professor Löfstedt’s review of health and safety legislation was published in late 2011.  As we wait to see the effect of other changes following this review, we consider the creation of the Health and Safety Executive’s Independent Regulatory Challenge Panel (the ‘Panel’) and what it means for those in the food sector.

One of the proposals in Professor Löfstedt’s review was that the Government should look at introducing a challenge mechanism that allows for cases of incorrect, over-application of health and safety legislation to be addressed.  As a consequence of this recommendation, the HSE’s Independent Regulatory Challenge Panel was created and is now open for business.

What will the Panel do?

The Panel will consider complaints made regarding advice given by both HSE inspectors and local authority inspectors which businesses believe is incorrect or disproportionate.   Its remit does not extend to considering the conduct of these inspectors.

The Panel currently has 5 members and is headed by Tricia Henton, formerly of the Environment Agency. The Panel’s remit is limited to cases from 30 June 2011 onwards and to considering complaints regarding advice provided in relation to health and safety.  The Panel will not address issues where other appeals processes already exist such as prosecutions or enforcement notices.

Where does the Panel “sit” within the system?

Referrals to the Panel are the second stage of a three stage complaints process.  Businesses who are unhappy with advice they have received are encouraged to first try and resolve the matter with the relevant local authority or HSE inspector and the inspector’s manager.  If they remain unsatisfied the next stop is to complete an online form on HSE’s website which will raise their issue with the new Panel.   There is no cost involved in raising such a complaint.  The option also remains for businesses to seek resolution through the existing HSE internal complaint process.

The Panel’s precise terms of reference have not yet been published however, its role is solely advisory and the HSE has stated that it will respect the “independence of the panel and its advice and where appropriate take it onboard.” The findings of the Panel will be published on the HSE’s website.  If businesses are still not satisfied a third opportunity for complaint lies in writing to the HSE’s Chief Executive or the appropriate Local Authority Chief Executive and/or contacting local councillors or MP which is the same as for the existing complaints mechanism.

What are the benefits for businesses in the food sector?

An opportunity for businesses in the food sector to challenge what can often be conflicting advice and opinions from HSE and local authority inspectors before an independent panel is welcome particularly if it achieves the aim of the Löfstedt report and helps restore proportionality and inform the broader debate about risk.  However, the fact remains that the HSE and local authorities do not have to follow the advice of the Panel and sadly therefore its impact is likely to be weaker as a result.