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UK workplaces "safer than ever before"?

The government says UK workplaces are "safer than ever before", as figures show 84% of rules have been improved

The majority of UK health and safety rules will have been simplified by the time the current parliamentary session ends in May, "without compromising health and protection for workers", according to the government.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said that 84% of health and safety laws had been repealed or improved since it adopted a 'one in, two out' approach to regulation, resulting in savings to businesses of £21.25 million since the last election. Future changes to electrical product testing guidance could potentially save businesses a further £30m, it said.

"We have a proud history of worker protection and we continue to work with business and others to ensure that regulations are appropriate and effective," said Judith Hackitt, chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

"As an organisation, we've completed a comprehensive review of our stock of legislation, delivered a substantial package of reforms and reduced the regulatory burden - all without compromising or diluting protection for workers," she said.

However, health and safety law expert Kevin Bridges of Pinsent Masons said that businesses would benefit more from consistent enforcement rather than the abolition of "some very old and obscure regulations".

"Overall, the regulatory landscape hasn't changed much, and neither should it," he said. "It would be far better for the government to review how the law is enforced than mess around with the statutory framework."

"The problem isn't with the number of laws we have relating to occupational health and safety, but with how those laws are enforced on a consistent and fair basis. Splitting enforcement of health and safety legislation between the HSE and local authorities will of itself give rise to inconsistent approaches to enforcement. However, even within regulators the approach to prosecution is far too often influenced with the benefit of hindsight, motivated by the desire to 'gold-plate' standards rather than adopt and promote through its enforcement decisions a sensible, pragmatic and proportionate approach to managing foreseeable risks," he said.

Bridges said that the UK's health and safety legislative framework had "stood the test of time", having been in force since the HSE was created by the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974.

"The reality is that the current system is generally fit for purpose, objective-based rather than prescriptive, and affords businesses flexibility in terms of what they need to do to comply, based on proportionate risk management. Most of our health and safety laws are derived from European directives, so no UK government has the power to simply abolish them in any event," he said.

According to the DWP, the biggest cost saving for businesses would come as a result of the updated Construction (Design and Management) (CDM) Regulations, which come into force on 6 April 2015. The new regulations, which remove the need for a standalone CDM coordinator to be appointed at construction sites, will save businesses £19.6m, the government said.

Article originally published by out-law.com

 

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