Lord Young’s review of health and safety laws has recently received a lot of publicity. The Government is apparently committed to change of the basis of Lord Young’s, yet to be published, report. So what might be the outcome?
Reading between the lines of various Press Releases at the time of the Conservative Party Conference and other published statements the answer for most businesses is likely to be one of little change. Lord Young himself is on record as saying that the UK “has one of the best records in Europe for accidents and deaths at work and nothing in my report will change that.” It is clear that there will be no change to the regulation of the manufacturing, construction, agricultural, chemical and nuclear industries.
Lord Young suggests that his report will be concentrating on the commercial and public sectors where we regularly hear reports of health and safety rules being over-zealously applied by uninformed and unthinking managers and officials or being used as an excuse for inactivity and reluctance. These reports often tell only part of the story or are deliberately exaggerated to grab the headlines.
We must all remember that health and safety regulations, wherever they apply, are based on the reasonably practicable control of hazards and risks. So in an office it is not reasonable to expect that all electrical equipment must be tested every year by a qualified electrician. For most of the equipment simple visual checks for obvious signs of damage or simple tests by a competent member of staff are sufficient.
Similarly, health and safety law doesn’t require a 20 page Risk Assessment for every school trip. It does require an assessment of hazard and risk, but we’d expect a simple and easy assessment for a visit to a theatre or museum and a more detailed complex assessment for a residential outdoor activity event involving rock-climbing or water sports. Parents, surely, expect the same. The Health and Safety Executive and the Department for Education has a website explaining this. But many education authorities, seeking to protect themselves from claims, insist on the use of long and detailed forms for every visit. So the ‘one size fits all’ rule and form becomes a disincentive for a visit.
Whatever your stance on the legal issues one thing is certain – every accident or incident in the workplace comes at a cost. Every one of them has an effect on business efficiency and on profit. Although Employer’s Liability Insurance will meet the claim for damages, it does not pay for the costs of business disruption and lost opportunity, for the time of staff involved in investigations, for the damage caused, for professional fees, for the loss of contracts and business reputation, etc.
And whatever your view on the “Claims Culture” it is important to remember that claims can only succeed where the claimant can prove a breach of statutory liability or sustain a claim of negligence. Sometimes the lack of simple paper evidence alone (the red tape) is the only reason that a claim succeeds. Employers do need to be able demonstrate active and continuing management of health and safety.
A few years ago research by insurance companies and the HSE suggested that the direct cost to a business for an accident requiring first aid attention was £33, that every incident involving damage to plant and equipment but without personal injury had a direct cost of £141 and that an injury causing absence from work brought an uninsured cost of £2097. Updated to today’s prices those costs become £38, £162 and £2420 respectively. If you don’t take action to prevent such accidents and incidents you won’t easily recoup those losses without securing extra business – not an easy task in the current economic climate.
By tailoring our Health and Safety management system to an individual client’s business and needs Peninsula Business Service takes account of the hazards and risks present in their business and provide the appropriate advice. The system also offers a number of simple and straightforward forms to help record and demonstrate their active management of health and safety.
If you would like further advice on this subject or information on any aspect of this article do not hesitate to call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.