Could new HSE scheme be dangerous?

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Following an initial pilot, today sees the roll-out of the new Fee for Intervention (FFI) guidelines (1 October 2012), which are set to have significant financial implications for businesses.

The highly debated FFI regime will allow the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to recover its investigation costs from businesses. This fee will apply when a failure to observe health and safety law – requiring a notice to be issued in writing – is discovered during a HSE inspection or investigation, even if no prosecution is brought.

Steffan Groch, head of regulatory and litigation team at business law firm, DWF, comments: “If the operation of your business puts others at risk – including employees and members of the public – then the HSE will hold the company responsible as a duty holder. You also mustn’t overlook activity carried out by contractors, as requesting work to be carried out on your behalf will mean you automatically have a duty.”

In a survey undertaken by DWF earlier this year*, almost half of leading employers surveyed admitted to having apprehensions about the new fees and believed the introduction of these guidelines will make businesses think twice before seeking advice from the HSE.

Steffan continues: “Our survey showed that 49 per cent of respondents thought the cost may have a negative and disproportionate impact on small and medium sized businesses. The FFI hourly rate has been set at £124 and a business under investigation will continue to accrue these charges until it has corrected the issues with the support of the HSE.

“FFI represents a fundamental change to the HSE’s role. Currently, as an advisory body, the HSE is a go-to for advice and support, especially for smaller businesses. Following these changes however, there is a concern that organisations will shy away from consulting the HSE, or avoid reporting accidents, in fear of being charged or penalised if they are found not to be complying with the law.

“With the new guidelines in mind, there are certain legal steps that health and safety professionals should take to ensure they are compliant with the new regime, and are in a position to quickly and efficiently deal with any HSE investigations. For example, companies should make sure that there is an appointed representative for each of its sites to deal with the HSE – and that person should act as the point of liaison for any enquiries or investigations”.

In response to the new guidelines, DWF plans to launch a new service which will provide health and safety professionals with a ‘kit bag’ to support them should they find themselves investigated, and being charged by the HSE. Further details will be available shortly.

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