After almost 18 months of political challenge and media criticism and following on from the Lord Young and Professor Loftstedt reports on the alleged health and safety crisis affecting industry and commerce in the UK, are we any further forward within the Health and Safety profession of fully understanding what is expected of us so we can advise our clients on how to cope with the issue of health and safety compliance?
Professor Loftstedt has in his recently published report stated that health and safety legislation in UK is generally fit for purpose but it is the interpretation and implementation of the statute that causes the problem. I cannot agree more. We see on a regular basis different approaches and attitudes to the same or similar “contraventions” that our clients have to deal with.
Both as a safety professional and provider of services to over 12,000 clients I believe in keeping health and safety procedures and their application at work “simple”. It is far easier to understand at “shop floor level” if the requirements are clear and unambiguous. Paper for the sake of paper needs to go and I am in full agreement with the drive to reduce red tape. However there is a fine line when, if you need to defend yourself in court or prove to your insurer that you are doing things correctly you need the evidence. This unfortunately does mean procedures and written documentation.
Health and safety enforcement will from April 2012, be significantly reduced, the fact that rogue employers will have an even greater chance of avoiding a routine visit is not commented upon in any of the reports. The loss of 29 million working days through sickness absence and the fact that fatal work place accidents increased last year has again been missed. Regrettably we still have employers who are exposing their employees to considerable health and safety risks as the statistics show and yet we allegedly have the highest standards in Europe.
What a fantastic testament to good health and safety in this country is the construction of the Olympic facilities. Not one person killed on a massive construction project in an industry still responsible for the highest number of fatal accidents. That has not happened by accident, but by good practical health and safety management and the sensible co-operation of all concerned. Health and safety in the workplace is not, if managed and implemented correctly, a burden on any company contrary to popular belief.
So what do the next 12 months hold? The Government are to reduce some of the duplication in certain regulations which I agree with, and are looking to provide through the HSE improved guidance, but with at least a 35% reduction in funding / staffing will they be able to deliver? They will significantly reduce their proactive visits concentrating on risk.
It is proposed that the HSE will charge employers where they have to intervene to ensure compliance by taking formal action against the employer. This includes formal letters as well as Improvement and Prohibition notices and this is on top of any costs incurred if prosecutions are taken. My question “is this the right way to encourage effective practical health and safety management in the work place?"
Are we any clearer now than last year? Well at this time not much, in my opinion.
My team will continue to keep our clients aware of what is happening so we can help ensure employers in the UK maintain the highest health and safety standards possible without them being a burden.