The Inconvenient Truth on Health and Safety Regulations

Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors

The Thompsons Solicitors Weekly Blog


Another consultation lands. The Health and Safety Executive is proposing a revised Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) on the workplace health and safety regulations.


It’s a mild one by the standards we have become used to from this government. Another emanation from the Löfstedt review of health and safety, it implements the recommendation that the HSE should review all its ACoPs.


We will be studying the detail before firmly concluding that the proposed changes are of little concern. But in general they are updates of various aspects to reflect amendments in the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 themselves, including the deletion of out of date duties and responsibilities.


Ironically, whereas the ministerial motivation for commissioning the Löfstedt review was the now well-worn path of reducing burdens on business, health and safety ACoPs are not obligatory for businesses to follow.


If they do however, they can be reasonably sure that they are complying with legal requirements. And if they don’t, and an accident happens, a court may take a dim view. So as burdens go, the ACoP is more of a help than an hindrance. It’s certainly not proactive regulation.


Yet the aim of the consultation is “to establish if the changes make it easier for employers to understand and meet their obligations”.


The Löfstedt review, and Lord Young’s before that, found little evidence that employers don’t really understand their obligations. And the burden on business was more perceived than real.


That’s an inconvenient truth. No amount of re-drafting of the regulations and codes will satisfy those in the business lobby and in government with a seemingly pathological hatred for health and safety regulations.


Every time we secure compensation for someone injured in a workplace accident, it’s a cost that could have been avoided if the employer had observed some simple rules and guidance.


At a time when the HSE is operating under swingeing budget cuts do we really need another consultation based on anecdotal evidence that life must be made easier for employers, when what is needed is increased inspections and prosecutions and to hammer home the truth that safe workplaces are more successful businesses?


And let’s not forget that this government is making it increasingly difficult for accident victims to be properly compensated by their employer’s insurer. Ironically, for a government that wants to minimise state intervention, this means that the state is likely to have pick up the tab for an employer’s negligence through welfare claims.


To read more about the consultation see this week’s LELR.




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