Health and Safety becoming ‘ritual excuse’ not to do anything

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Think tank Policy Exchange’s latest report warns of a ‘culture of over-compliance’, and of a rapidly burgeoning health and safety industry in which consultants have a clear incentive to inflate the level of risk mitigation that must be carried out, both to generate business and protect their reputation.

Over 1, 500 ‘specialist health and safety firms now offer their services to business, and analysts have valued the sector at between £700 million and £1 billion.  The Better Regulation Executive has described it as ‘one of the fastest growing business to business sales sectors in the UK’.

Corin Taylor, a senior Policy Advisor at the Institute for Directors and author of the report, said:

“Health and safety regulation has a long history and a noble purpose. Britain has gone from a country where children climbed chimneys to sweep away coal dust to virtually the safest place to work in the EU.

But something has clearly gone wrong.  There’s such an enormous amount of uncertainty about health and safety legislation, that this has led to a culture of over-compliance.  Matters are little helped by the fact that there are no qualifications required to become a health and safety consultant, and it’s possible to acquire an industry-respected health and safety certificate after just 10 days.”

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Greater clarity is needed around legal requirements such as ‘reasonably practical’ and HSE guidance on when a risk assessment needs to be made or how extensive it needs to be. This would reassure people that only proportionate, common-sense and practical health and safety steps need to be taken, and may lessen organisations’ dependence on the health and safety industry.
  • A minimum standard of qualification for health and safety consultants should be introduced.
  • Given that extensive legal liabilities already exist for individual directors, the HSE should think again as to whether it really should add further duties.
  • Consideration should be given as to whether certain health and safety requirements, for example risk assessments, can be lifted from micro-enterprises and low-risk office-based businesses.
  • It is questionable whether the self-employed need any health and safety requirements at all, except for ensuring that their work does not harm others.
  • Stripping back regulation in this area should be investigated.
  • The current costs of health and safety regulation are too high. There are a number of approaches that could be taken to tackle this cost: the introduction of regulatory budgets, the removal of individual regulations or a reduction in the number of regulatory requirements. An investigation should be carried out into the viability and effectiveness of these approaches.
  • The last, and biggest, question is whether we should really try to eliminate all risk, or whether we should try to manage risk effectively. At some point, the marginal cost of risk-mitigation will exceed the marginal benefit of fewer injuries. Much as it will take a brave politician to advocate a reduction in regulation following an accident, it may be important to make explicit where health and safety lies in the order of priorities.

TUC Reaction

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘This report is as close to being relevant to the needs of the modern workplace as Alice in Wonderland.

‘Anyone who believes that there is a culture of over-compliance needs some basic lessons in the reality of working life. Last year 30 million days were lost due to injuries and ill-health caused by work. And a quarter of a million people were injured at work. These were caused by employers failing to comply with health and safety regulations.

‘There is not one shred of evidence that there is any over-compliance. Research has shown that over half of all small businesses have not even done a basic risk assessment as required by law.

‘We now have less than half the number of regulations than 35 years ago, and they are generally simpler and clearer. Yet businesses spend, on average, less than four minutes a day on health and safety – hardly a major burden.

‘There is no place for any lowering of standards or reducing regulation. Instead we need more support for those businesses that want to do the right thing, and more enforcement action against those that do not.’

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4 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. A cursory glance at the report reveals the following:
    *Neither author has any real knowledge or experience of health and safety. They are ciphers of the IoD and the BCC. Both organisations lobby to put profitability before any obstacle, regardless of the social impact. The have a political agenda and secretly could not give a fig for the health and well being of the great british workforce.
    *The impressions that health and safety is a “regime”, “on the increase” or “a burden” are created by lobbyists themselves, and their friends in the press. It’s a myth. Legislation is often poorly written and complex, not just in H&S but in many areas of life. Some things aren’t easy. You could do your own accounts, taxes, legal advice or bricklaying yourself if you knew how. But I wouldn’t recommend it. No one wants a massive tax bill, a wonky wall or an accident, but they all happen.
    *The costs are too high? Health and safety advice is worth £700m. That’s less than the corporate gym industry or the diet industry. And workplace injury costs £7.8bn. 10% is a great ROI in the current climate
    *The rise in “no win, no fee” cases has little to do with improving workplace safety. It’s a function of a relaxation in legal markets. No ambulance chaser ever made a workplace safer. But safer workplace attract less ambulances.
    *A certificate IS a qualification e.g. The IoD certificate in company direction, one would assume, is a qualification. Nevertheless the vast majority of practitioners are far more qualified than that. IOSH has a royal charter as well, just like the IoD, but some people are Directors of businesses without being members of the IoD. Scandalous!

    This report is hurried ill-informed waffle and conjecture, poorly researched, in support of a political point which is tired and hackneyed and had already been insisted upon well before the report was commissioned. Some people don’t like being told what to do, especially by an underling, especially when they have marble columned offices on Pall Mall and a memebrship filled with captains of industry paying their subs. Real stats show that businesses that look after their workforce are more successful long term and are better investments than those who do not. Stop reading the Daily Mail at the IoD and start supporting your company directors to be better informed about how to make H&S work for them.

  2. As a health & safety specialist I am saddened by some of the comments. Unfortunately Many Senior Managers do not undergo even basic H&S training that would enable them to determine what is needed for their organisations and if a consultant was then required they could determine whether the person that they were selecting was competent and registered with IOSH or IIRSM. Risk assessments need to be carried out but only have to be documented if the risk is significant but many people go over the top. If people are being protected from injury and ill health then you are complying with most of the law. You will never eliminate all risk and the law does not always require it. If it can be eliminated then you should but where you cant then it should be controlled to reduce the liklihood of injury and ill health to the lowest practicable level. Most people introduce silly bans on activities not because of H&S law but fear of litigation but H&S gets blamed. The HSE suggests a common sense approach and has published easy to understand guidance on risk assessment and it is also worth checking out the Myth of the Month series on their website that dispels a lot of the silly ideas that people have got that H&S law prohibits activities. Many businesses would be better training up a member of their staff to take on the H&S role instead of paying a fortune to consultants. Risk assessments would then be carried out by people who understand the business.

  3. I largely agree with the tenor of the article however – over compliance may not be the right term to use in terms of what businesses are doing. What is happening is that managers are tending towards doing less or ensuring ‘we do not do what may get us sued’ rather than really ensuring the safety of people in their care. allied to this increasingly risk assessments are being seen as an onerous task that is being done over and over and leads to activities being done than more – the education sector is a case in point.
    I also agree with Paul it is less the industry and more ill informed managers and insurers that are leading to this thought of ‘over complience’
    H & S really has to get the message back across that ensuring the well being of clients, employees and uers is a positive business benefit rather than a burden.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with everything that Paul Richardson says in his reponse, particularly that if companies had their own staff trained to take on health & safety management they wouldn’t need a consultant. The long term savings (taking into account reduced accidents, down time & consultant’s fees) could be significant. I assume the qualification referred to by Corin Taylor is the NEBOSH certificate which, as the bare minimum for the most junior safety adviser, is hardly the qualifcation of the consultant of choice. The report also shows how easy it is for an apparently credible organisation to be able to report on matters it obviously doesn’t have a clue about! I have to say it strikes me as having more than just a little political undertone at a time when we are approaching a general election. Perhaps Corin Taylor should see if he could obtain a safety qualification in 10 days and if he did if it would alter his way of thinking!

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