In March 2011, the Government announced an independent review of health and safety legislation designed to simplifying existing regulation. Led by Professor Lofstedt, the report built on previous work done for the government by Lord Young and looked at the ways in which legislation could be consolidated in order to reduce the amount of red tape.
Last month, the outcome of this review was released. With over 200 health and safety regulations currently in place, the government hopes to reduce this by half as a result of this review and one way they are hoping to implement this is by an increased emphasis on individual responsibility. This will involve providing businesses with an opportunity to query excessive interpretation of safety law. The report also states that unless a self-employed person is engaged in a hazardous occupation, he or she should be exempt.
Here at St John Ambulance, we are worried that there will now be a period of uncertainty about health and safety needs where previously there was at least clarity. Employers should avoid falling into the trap of interpreting this announcement as a reason to lose focus on workplace safety or assume that they can take a back seat on health and safety regulations.
Paradoxically, the new moves may increase the extent to which employers need to ensure their health and safety provision is up-to-scratch, and this is particularly important for SMEs, for which the absence of even a single key employee can mean insufficient first aiders on site – and for whom the loss of an employee from the workforce can significantly affect the business.
In the UK we have one of the lowest levels of first aid training in Europe and at the same time, deaths in the workplace increased last year. Now is the time to take steps to make sure workers’ lives are prioritised over a perceived reduction in paper work.
While it makes sense to put responsibility back in the hands of employees, the only sensible way to do this is to equip them with the skills and knowledge to act in an emergency situation. We cannot risk a reduction in the number of people with lifesaving skills, the quality of their training or the depth of their knowledge, or the position could worsen further.
First aid is one of the most important aspects of health and safety in the workplace and we need to ensure that more people have the full range of skills and confidence to be the difference between a life lost and a life saved. If not, what is being presented as a reduction in bureaucracy could instead lead to an increase in deaths.