Channel companies have welcomed signals that the government is progressing with its investigation into the feasibility of scrapping many health and safety regulations.
UK employment minister Chris Grayling has launched a consultation on health and safety laws which will focus on emphasising the need for people to take responsibility for themselves in a variety of situations. The first changes could be made within a few months.
Dan Scarfe (pictured, right), chief executive at cloud specialist Dot Net Solutions, says current legislation is creating difficulties for businesses, particularly smaller firms.
"This [consultation] is absolutely needed. Health and safety has gone doolally," Scarfe says. "As a 20-person, office-based company, we have to perform a health and safety risk assessment. I mean, seriously?"
He suggests the current regime is too bureaucratic, taking time but not necessarily improving health and safety. To fulfil current legislation, Dot Net Solutions does not have to demonstrate it has done anything to improve health and safety beyond showing it has considered the issues involved.
"We don't have to do anything, but we have to prove that we have thought about it. It is complete and utter nonsense. While in some industries it is of course very important, I think all office-based companies should be exempt," Scarfe adds. "The worst that can happen is that someone spills a cup of coffee. That's not particularly high risk."
Dave Ellis, director of new technology and services at distributor Computerlinks, has been thinking along similar lines. Having "lots of balls in the air" all the time on compliance takes the organisation's focus away from growth, he says.
"This [consultation] could be a good thing, because I think all this regulation can often stifle innovation and kind of get in the way of doing business," Ellis says. "If you are an SMB, there are only so many balls you can juggle at once."
Ellis argues that health and safety remains important, but the balance needs to be right between the responsibility of the organisation and those of the employee or individual who might come to grief through accident or misadventure.
Health and safety rules affect resellers' responsibilities among customers and partners, Ellis (pictured, left) notes. Computerlinks has a certification that accredits it as having "safe conduct", for example, showing that health and safety regulations can increase the compliance burden on partnerships as well as on direct relationships.
Ben Davies, managing director at third-party support services provider Comms-care, says he too hopes the bureaucracy on businesses can be reduced – which should promote growth in the economy as well as within individual companies or industries.
"I really hope that employment minister Chris Grayling's comment about hoping to 'put common sense back at the heart of health and safety' comes to fruition. Bureaucracy is painful enough for businesses to implement and manage – but unnecessary bureaucracy can have really damaging, lasting effects."
Comms-care has worked "tirelessly" in the past few years with a view to streamlining its organisation to remain competitive and maintain margins – but the job is harder when bureaucracy takes up too many resources, slowing down a company's ability to respond to customer needs, Davies (pictured, lower right) says.
Rebecca Russell, managing director of specialist quality and safety consultancy Stepping Stones for Business, agrees that current laws can prove burdensome, especially for SMBs and the self-employed. While it remains true that no organisation is risk free when it comes to health and safety, organisational responsibilities must be commensurate with the size of the risk, which will vary according to the type and size of the organisation.
"Currently there are 200 regulations relevant to health and safety," Russell says. "And my own view is that it is good that they are looking at it."
Stepping Stones for Business helps organisations navigate their way through what seems at times to be a legal minefield concerning health and safety, as well as providing risk assessments.
Russell says the current laws have sometimes been applied in an unnecessarily heavy-handed way, so – hopefully – a review of the legislation will enable companies to refocus their attention where it matters, both in health and safety terms and on business growth opportunities.
"And it should look at encouraging the people who create the risks to take more responsibility for those risks," Russell says. "The whole point of health and safety legislation is that it should not stop people enjoying life, or working; it should simply be there to protect them at an appropriate time."
The government's consultation, announced on 28 November, follows an independent review of the health and safety regime by King's College risk management specialist and professor Ragnar E Löfstedt.
According to a report by the BBC, the idea is to halve the number of health and safety rules over the next three years, if possible, starting early in the new year. A "challenge panel" is also being set up to help businesses challenge health and safety rulings made against them.
The BBC said rules that may be abolished or altered potentially include the Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981, which require first aider training to be approved by the Health and Safety Executive, and the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, which mean businesses have to have small kitchen appliances such as kettles tested every year.
Löfstedt's review also suggested that the self-employed should be exempt from health and safety laws if their work does not endanger others. That could potentially include freelance IT consultants or service providers, as well as certain home-based businesses.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has welcomed the Löfstedt recommendations.
Judith Hackitt, chairwoman at HSE, says the report is "insightful" and should go a long way to refocusing health and safety on supporting those who want to do the right thing and reducing rates of work-related death, injury and ill health.
"We must have a system of health and safety which enables employers to make sensible and proportionate decisions about managing genuine workplace risks," says Hackitt.
"Simplifying and streamlining the stock of regulations, focusing enforcement on higher-risk businesses, clarifying requirements and rebalancing the civil litigation system are all practical, positive steps."
Poor regulation that adds bureaucracy with no real benefits also drives away confidence in good regulation, Hackitt says. Reforms should benefit both workers and employers.
HSE also says it will meet the timetable set by the government for implementing the recommendations for which it was responsible.
"Another government regulatory reform initiative, the Red Tape Challenge, will report in the new year on further possible changes to the stock of health and safety regulations," the HSE adds in a statement.
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