IT appears that the current health and safety legislative system may be overhauled to help SMEs find their way through the baffling situation in which many business owners find themselves.
David Cameron had previously asked Lord Young of Graffham to carry out a review of the UK’s “over the top health and safety culture” which has “become embedded in the national way of life”. Lord Young has now been officially appointed as advisor to the Prime Minister on health and safety laws and is to undertake a Whitehall-wide review of the operation of health and safety laws and the growth of the compensation culture.
Lord Young said: “Health and safety regulation is essential in many industries, but may well have been applied too generally and have become an unnecessary burden on firms.” His report is expected later this summer.
In my experience, too much health and safety is not the problem. The trick is finding which parts of the legislation are relevant to a business and dealing with them in a way that is prioritised and appropriate for that business.
Companies often complain that there is too much paperwork involved. Health and safety should not be about the paperwork. Yes, evidence of staff training, copies of workplace inspections and machinery maintenance records can be worth their weight in gold when faced with questions from an enforcement officer or an insurance inspector. However, we need to be selective when generating paper so we don’t loose focus on what really matters.
Risk assessments are mandatory and must be recorded if a business has five or more employees. Importantly, risk assessments are for the benefit of the people, such as employees, exposed to the risk. If you cannot fit a risk assessment on to one or two pages, it is unlikely most workers will ever read them and the risk assessment process becomes purely a paperwork exercise, wasting everyone’s time.
Some larger companies, particularly in the construction sector, have introduced excessive burdens on SMEs who want to work for them. Many smaller companies have put precious time and finances into achieving nationally recognised accreditations such as the Contractors Health and Safety Assessment Scheme, but still need to duplicate this effort to meet the requirements of a prospective client’s own internal systems. Lord Young would do well to investigate this unnecessary drain on the resources of small businesses.
When the report and its recommendations are produced, hopefully we will see a common sense approach to health and safety. As Safety Minister Chris Grayling said when welcoming the appointment of Lord Young: “It isŠimportant that we review health and safety regulation so that while people are protected at work thereŠisn't a burden on business and people can still use their common sense without fearing they are breaking the law.”