Last year the Department for Business Innovation and Skills released a press statement which announced that low risk businesses will not be subject to regular health and safety inspections.

It is expected that the changes, previously expected to come into force between the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities in April 2013, will exclude hundreds of thousands of businesses from burdensome inspections.

Under the current framework, low risk businesses (restaurants, pubs, offices and hotels) can expect periodic proactive health and safety inspections by their regulator, either the HSE or local authority.

This is set to change when it is planned that only those businesses operating in "higher risk" industries such as construction or which have an incident or poor track record in health and safety performance will receive regular proactive inspections.

The changes were announced as part of the Government’s "red tape blitz to boost business growth" initiative. As well as cutting health and safety inspections, the Government also announced the introduction of numerous measures aimed at saving companies wasted resources and encouraging innovation.

The Government published its progress on this in February, and noted:

  • Changing legislation to ensure that businesses will only be held liable for civil damages in health and safety cases if they can be shown to have acted negligently. Currently, businesses can be liable on a strict basis, regardless of whether or not they are negligent. The amending legislation has very recently been approved by the House of Lords.
  • Reviewing 6,500 pieces of legislation with a view to abolishing or reducing at least 3,000 of these. Seven sets of obsolete or redundant health and safety regulations have already been revoked, with a further 13 still on track for revocation in April 2013.
  • Proposals to streamline HSE’s Approved Codes of Practice, which would see six simplified Codes, a further six withdrawn through consolidation and three withdrawn outright.

Reaction

The announcement of reducing health and safety inspections made headlines and provoked different reactions from industry.

Alexander Ehmann at the Institute of Directors said:

"Removing the headache of health and safety inspections for low-risk businesses is a step change. Scrapping unnecessary and unpredictable inspections is a valuable piece of deregulation and the Government are to be congratulated for taking such bold and decisive action on behalf of Britain’s businesses."

Conversely, concern has been raised by the general workers union the GMB that fewer health and safety inspections could put the safety of those in the workplace at risk.

Bob Crow, leader of the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union, in his usual understated way called it an "all-out attack on safety" which he said will have:

"Lethal consequences for workers and the public alike as businesses are given the green light to cut corners."

Mr Crow warned of a "massive campaign of resistance" from the trade unions.

Despite the reaction to the announcement, it should be noted that these changes have actually been in the pipeline for some time. It was in April last year that the Prime Minister launched the "Red Tape Challenge", its purpose being to review and simplify existing legislation.

We previously reported on the health and safety aspects arising out of the Red Tape Challenge, namely the independent review of UK health and safety legislation undertaken by Professor Löfstedt. The still-anticipated HSE/Local Authority inspection code suggests that the Government remains committed to its pledge to free business from what it feels are unnecessary burdens in the workplace.