From April 2013, businesses considered to be 'low risk' will no longer receive routine health and safety inspections by the HSE. The move has been both condemned and praised and has come about following the continued focus of the Government on health and safety and red tape. Following findings and recommendations from Lord Young, Professor Löfstedt and the Red Tape Challenge the health and safety landscape is clearly changing.
This isn’t, however, an all-out war on health and safety, rather an attempt to allow businesses to flourish and grow. This will certainly help some businesses in that respect but education will be key and we will need to make sure we find the happy medium to make sure everybody is still aware of their responsibilities.
The focus is where it should always have been and that’s on protecting people at work from ill health and medium to high risk activities in industries such as construction and agriculture. We do not want to eliminate all risk; the aim is never to eliminate, the aim is to manage risk and those that are within the risk game need to be able to demonstrate that they don’t have a high risk appetite.
There will continue to be a lot of debate around this issue, however I think the changes will hardly be noticed. What will need greater clarity though is what is actually regarded as a ‘low risk’ workplace and we will have to see what additional guidance is produced.
The types of businesses that look like they are to be excluded are those where the highest risk is something minor; i.e. a staple in a finger. It is presumed that these will be small businesses which are predominantly office based environments where the risk is centred on DSE and manual handling. If that is the only risk they are exposed to on a daily basis, then it needs to be clarified whether that is to be considered low risk and to be exempted from inspections. After all, a small organisation employing less than five people doesn’t have documented policies or risk assessments but can undertake high risk activities.
Some concern does still remain however whether, where these inspections are removed or reduced, these organisations will have internal arrangements in place to proactively manage health and safety. There will also still be a reactive element to consider in these organisations where there are reportable incidences of ill health, dangerous occurrences or major injuries which would still need to be followed up and investigated.
Ultimately the framework may shift slightly to a more logical approach but health and safety is not off the cards for anyone. There will still have to be some regard and a duty of care to your employees and any other people affected by your business operations.
Health and safety should be part of the foundations of all organisations – alongside legal, moral and financial considerations – and never just an afterthought brought to the forefront when it is too late following a fatal or severe accident.
Health and Safety Consultant, Workplace Law