Is common sense prevailing in the health and safety world?

Peter Foster - Hugh J Boswell

Despite what many organisations may think, health and safety laws are not devised to make life as difficult as possible for struggling businesses.

Nobody has purposely introduced a law simply to drain an organisation of its valuable time and resources and every piece of legislation is designed to ensure employees' working environments are as safe as possible. That said, there are certain rules that perhaps have not been fully thought out and then there are outdated regulations that are no longer effective in 2013.

Businesses in Britain have been particularly irked by some health and safety laws that have been enforced at European level, even if the UK government is not necessarily on board. This is obviously very topical at the moment, with David Cameron recently proposing a referendum for 2017, which will ultimately decide whether the UK remains as a member of the EU.

There are many pros and cons to weigh up when deciding if the UK is better off alone and the issue will inevitably divide society. The outcome of this referendum will obviously have a huge impact on the health and safety laws that are applied in this country, as there is every chance that the government will scrap any rules that it was under pressure to enforce, despite being none-too-keen at the time. Obviously, this works both ways and popular laws that the EU has insisted upon may also fall by the wayside.

Regardless of whether the UK decides to break free from the clutches of Brussels or not, it seems the government has already set about overhauling the nation's health and safety laws. Earlier this month, the Department for Work & Pensions released a statement that highlighted the work that the authorities have put into ridding the UK of unnecessary red tape.

Professor Ragnar Lofstedt said he was very happy to see that the government has followed the recommendations made in his 2011 'Reclaiming Health and Safety for all' report, which suggested that the application of safety regulations in the UK is somewhat over-zealous.

A separate report indicated that the government has already implemented 23 out of 35 suggestions made in Lord Young's 2010 report 'Commons Sense, Common Safety'. Lord Young was particularly keen to see an end to the growing compensation culture and the negative press surrounding health and safety laws.

"For too long businesses have been confused by health and safety regulations which cost them money and take up time when they should be focusing on growth," commented minister for employment Mark Hoban.

"Health and safety is important, but its focus should be where risks are high. These reports show just how much progress we have made in restoring clarity to the system, and over the coming months I'll be making sure common sense prevails."

There are plenty of examples of the government making effective changes, but two that stand out in particular are the tweaking of accident reporting rules - which will save companies £5 million over ten years - and the simplification of electrical product safety laws, which can reduce business costs by a staggering £30 million.

Quite rightly, the government's proactive approach has gone down very well with the Federation of Small Businesses, which said it is important that firms focus on "real risks", rather than being bogged down with reams of paperwork.

Although it is refreshing to see the government championing common sense, it is still vital that enterprises do all they can to adhere to existing health and safety guidelines. Figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that 173 workers suffered fatal occupational injuries in 2011/12 and although this was 12 per cent lower than the five-year average, it is still far too many.
Compensation by insurers to employees for injuries sustained at work in 2010/11 was estimated at £1billion, according to  “By not complying with health and safety regulations, businesses are opening themselves up to claims by their staff.  In a situation where insufficient attention has been paid to health and safety precautions, insurers are often unable to defend claims.” States Peter Foster, Hugh J Boswell Managing Director. “Initial time and financial savings can be achieved by a business not dealing with health and safety matters appropriately, but the result is likely to be increased liability insurance premiums, additional costs such as increased employee absence and of course potential prosecution by the HSE.  I would therefore urge businesses to fully consider their approach to health and safety in the workplace and the implications of not doing so".

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