Following recommendations in the Lofstedt Report (Reclaiming health and safety for all - lessening the burden) that Approved Codes of Practice (ACoPs) should be simplified to make it easier for employers to understand and meet their legal obligations, the Government committed the HSE to review all of its current ACoPs.

ACoPs are guidance documents published by the HSE when there are specific recommended methods to be used to achieve compliance with health and safety regulations. ACoPs do not have the same force as the regulations - non compliance with them is not of itself a breach of the law - but they do have a special legal status.

On any prosecution there will be a presumption of guilt for an offence alleging non-compliance with a regulation ifa relevant ACoP has not been followed. It may be possible to demonstrate compliance in some other way, but the burden of proof will most definitely be on you to show that what you have done is at least as effective as following the ACoP guidance would have been.

From July - September this year, the HSE consulted on its proposals for the revision, consolidation or withdrawal of 30 ACoPs on which it promised to deliver change on 15 by the end of 2013, and to make minor revisions or determine no change was to be made to a further 15 by the end of 2014. Additionally it sought views on limiting the ACoPs in length to 32 pages (exceptional circumstances excepted).

Those in the 2013 list for change relate to dangerous substances and explosive atmospheres (ACoPs L134 - 138), legionella (L8), asbestos (L127, L143), gas safety (L56 and COP 20), hazardous substances (L5), workplaces (L24), management of health and safety (L21), agriculture (L116) and pipelines L116).

The ACoPs in line for more minor changes (or to be confirmed without amendment) in 2014 relate to diving (L103 - 107), work equipment (L22, 122 and 114), lifting equipment (L113), confined spaces (L101), pressure systems (L122), hazardous substances in pottery production (L60), hazardous substances - lead (L132), quarries (L118) and worker involvement (L146).

The ACoPs relating to rider operated lift trucks (operator training) (L117) and relating to the compilation of safety data sheets (L130) are to be withdrawn without consultation.

Because non observance of a relevant ACoP can be so damaging to your defence of a prosecution, and compliance may be the best way of keeping staff safe, it is vital that you are aware of ACoPs that are relevant to your business and that you keep up to date with any changes to their content. One easy way to follow this is to click on the "free updates" box on the HSE's website which enables you to tailor your request for updates to those that are going to be relevant to, and impact upon, your business.