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Plan aims to slash cost of health and safety compliance

plan as part of their commitment to better, smarter regulation to help businesses comply and, ultimately, improve health and safety.

The plan outlines initiatives to reduce the costs to business associated with complying with health and safety law while maintaining or improving heath and safety standards. It builds upon work already started by HSC/E on sensible risk management and the need for businesses to focus on 'real' health and safety risks rather than generating unnecessary paperwork. Within the plan there is a commitment to work towards a target of a 25 per cent reduction in administrative burdens on the basis that none of the changes will result in a reduction in safety for workers or the public. The total annual administrative cost of health and safety legislation is estimated to be £2.03billion, so a 25 per cent reduction equates to a saving of £508million per year.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, the Minister for health and safety, commented: "This is an excellent way forward for health and safety. I believe that HSC/E has prepared a robust, challenging plan, balancing both administrative burden reduction and wider better regulation initiatives. The plan outlines its commitment to delivering real and significant reductions in the costs to business of compliance with legislation. It aims to maintain or improve health and safety outcomes, while reducing costs of unnecessary paperwork to duty holders."

Key initiatives in 2006, the first year of the plan, focus on elements that affect the largest number of employers. These include:

  • Sensible risk management - simplifying the HSE's guidance to risk management and encouraging a proportionate approach to risk assessment and management.
  • Gas Safety Review - a review of the current regulatory regime to improve and modernise the system on a risk and evidence basis.
  • Forms - projects to reduce the number and burden of HSE forms by stripping out all out-of-date forms and providing electronic versions of all those remaining.
  • Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment and Provision and Use of Work Equipment (LOER and PUWER) - addressing concerns over a lack of clarity and possible overlap in the requirements of these two sets of regulations (new guidance should be in place in 2007/08).

Over the next four years the HSE will be developing and updating the plan to report on progress and ensure it continues to target the priority areas of concern to business. The HSC/E consulted widely with businesses, trade bodies and unions in developing the plan. They continue to encourage feedback on the plan and are seeking fresh ideas for further simplification initiatives.

Dr Janet Asherson, head of health and safety at the CBI, welcomed the plan's publication, saying: "CBI supports the removal of unnecessary administrative and bureaucratic burdens on business and welcomes the Health and Safety Executive's contribution to the overall Government Better Regulation Initiative. The hard work put into this simplification plan will pay off when businesses notice the difference resulting from the actions it outlines."

Hugh Robertson, senior health and safety officer at the TUC, said: "The TUC has always supported strong, effective regulation. However, if regulation can be simplified without reducing the level of protection it affords, that is in the interests of employees, employers and regulators. We believe the HSE/C have recognised this in their simplification plan, which stresses that good regulation must be fit for purpose and effective."

One of the main messages in the plan is that the HSC/E's will focus on their core business and the right interventions. The plan therefore includes initiatives to target consistent, proportionate enforcement activity where it will have the greatest impact and deal effectively with non-compliance.

In addition, the HSC/E appreciates that it needs to communicate its vision; providing clearer, simpler advice and information, particularly for small businesses, should encourage greater compliance.

Although the plan has been broadly welcomed, however, the Better Regulation Commission (BRC), in its independent assessment of the plan, states: "One area where the HSE needs to do more work is around the identification and reduction of non-legislative burdens. These include a proliferation of guidance materials and a culture that too often relies fundamentally on the preparation and retention of records and documents to demonstrate compliance. In this context, we are encouraged by how the new 'RIDDOR' guidance is making it clear and simple for businesses and would like to see a wider take up of this light touch approach across other fields."

Furthermore, the BRC does not hold back from making suggestions: "Another area that HSE should review is the extent to which they can move towards a model based on 'earned autonomy' or (as some would prefer) 'earned recognition'. The premise here is that a well-run business or organisation that has externally verified or audited health and safety management systems in place should be treated differently from a similar organisation without these benefits. We would like to see HSE looking more seriously at this approach as a means to achieve significant reductions in regulatory costs without a significant increase in the risk of accidents."

The BRC also points out that the £28-30million additional administrative burden introduced since May 2005 originated in the EU. So any reduction in administrative burden as a result of the HSC/E simplification plan is in danger of being undermined by additional EU-originated burdens.

The simplification plan - and the BRC's assessment - is available via the HSE's website.

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