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Cutting Health and Safety Red Tape?

A ‘blitz on red tape’ was announced on September 10 by Business Minister Michael Fallon. From next April, binding rules will be implemented on both the Health & Safety Executive and local authorities. The new initiative will exempt hundreds of thousands of businesses from health and safety inspections. In addition, the Government has set a goal to either scrap or overhaul 3,000 of the 6,000 current regulations.

Details have yet to be released regarding which specific businesses will no longer undergo health and safety inspections. However, the government has said that those businesses that are classified as ‘high-risk,’ such as companies within the construction and food production industries or those with a record of poor performance, will not be included in the initiative.

It was also announced that legislation will be introduced within the next month that will make businesses only liable for civil damages in health and safety cases if they can be shown to have acted negligently. This is a move aimed at helping to protect businesses from ‘compensation culture claims.’

While the government argues that the proposed changes to current regulations will cut bureaucracy and save companies millions of pounds, these kinds of announcements have been made before without significant changes actually taking place. Unfortunately, when it comes to reducing regulations, health and safety is seen as an easy target.

This is not the case, however, and it is misleading to suggest that the government can reduce around 3,000 regulations while at the same time focusing on health and safety. There are only 200 health and safety regulations in total. As a result, any reduction in health and safety regulations would be a small percentage of the 3,000 under consideration, and so far only 21 health and safety regulations have been reviewed.

Government announcements that focus discussion regarding ‘cutting red tape’ on health and safety propagate the myth that health and safety is an unjustified burden. The government’s initiative will, in reality, have a very small impact on health and safety measures beyond bringing undue negative public attention to the concept of health and safety regulation.