Summary and implications
On 15 October 2010 Lord Young published his report into the UK’s health and safety regime and the perceived notion that the UK has embraced a compensation culture. His report – Common Sense, Common Safety (“Report”) – includes a number of recommendations broadly spread across twelve categories, which have been proposed to shake-up the health and safety regime.
If the recommendations are approved (which seems likely) this could be one of the most significant revisions to health and safety law in the UK since the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 came into force, affecting diverse areas of health and safety from food safety to reporting workplace accidents. You should therefore understand what recommendations are being proposed and evaluate how they will affect your business operations.
Background to the Report
Aside from the recommendations themselves, there is a strong theme running through the report of reducing bureaucracy and ensuring better regulation through proportionality. Indeed, the underlying message seems to be to let businesses do what businesses are good at:
- Creating jobs;
- Creating stability; and
- Creating profit.
David Cameron has stated that his Government fully supports the recommendations in the Report and states that the Government will curtail the promotional activities of claims management companies and the compensation culture they perpetuate.
Here is a brief overview of Lord Young’s main recommendations, which are likely to impact on your operations:
Health and Safety Legislation
The Report suggests:
- Consolidating health and safety regulations and the production of separate guidance under a Code of Practice for low risk SME’s.
- That the UK leads an initiative to ensure that EU health and safety rules for low risk businesses are not overly prescriptive and do not attempt to achieve total risk elimination.
These proposals are designed to release businesses from the imposition of bureaucratic burdens and return the proper application of health and safety to the high standing it deserves.
The Reporting of Accidents
Lord Young has recommended that the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) is amended by extending to seven days the period before an injury or accident requires reporting.
It is considered that this approach will see a significant reduction in the numbers of reports which need to be made and improve the accuracy of national statistics.
In what will no doubt be seen as a controversial recommendation, Lord Young has suggested:
- Professionalising health and safety consultants; and
- Requiring them to become accredited to a professional body.
In order to achieve this, the Report states that a validation body should be established within a number of months, which should be fully operational within a year.
The motivator behind this appears to be the conception that SME’s and low risk businesses appoint costly health and safety consultants to provide guidance as they are unable (due to lack of in-house knowledge or resources) to undertake such duties themselves. However, a number of the SME’s feel that they are undertaking actions recommended by consultants which are not required by law and add no benefit to workplace safety.
Low Hazard Workplaces
The Report also makes proposals to ensure that low risk environments, such as offices and shops, are not caught by regulations aimed at dangerous, high risk workplaces. In particular, the Report suggests that:
- The HSE should simplify the risk assessment procedure for low hazard workplaces, including offices, and exempt employers from risk assessments for employees working from home;
- Insurance companies should cease the current practice that requires businesses operating in low hazard environments to employ health and safety consultants to carry out full health and safety risk assessments; and
- The UK should negotiate with the European Commission for a reduction of the burdens for low hazard workplaces.
Working with Larger Companies
The Report suggests that businesses such as large multi-site operations should elect to deal with local authorities under the Primary Authority Scheme, which enables a company outlets spread around the country to deal with one principal authority with the aim of agreeing standards to be applied on all the premises.
While one of the intentions behind the scheme was to remove inconsistencies in inspections, there is little obligation on other local authorities to comply with the Primary Authority. Lord Young envisages that the scheme is strengthened, with an enhanced role for the HSE, and a consultation commenced with the intention of having an improved regime in place as soon as practicable.
Combining Food Safety and Health and Safety Inspections
The Report recommends that there would be a cost reduction to local authorities by opening the delivery of food hygiene inspections to nationally accredited private organisations. In doing so local authorities will be able to target resources businesses which present a significant risk to health and safety.
In what will be seen by some as salvation from the plethora of “ambulance chasing” claim companies, the Report recommends reducing the number for potential health and safety claims and to curb the perception of a compensation culture by restricting the operation of referral agencies and personal injury lawyers and to control the type and volume of advertising.
Change for the Common Benefit
These recommendations acknowledge that the same health and safety rules should not be applied to low risk environments or where individuals are able to control their working environments at home as they are to high risk and hazardous work places.
The Report acknowledges that health and safety legislation is perhaps applied too strictly due to the fear of prosecution by enthusiastic health and safety officials who “in some instances are giving poor advice to organisations and individuals”.
The suggested outcomes should lower business costs and minimise time-consuming bureaucratic burdens by allowing businesses to take a more efficient approach to health and safety management.
Changing the law is merely a first step to introducing a more common sense approach, and the report recognises that changing perception and application of the law is just as important.