Consultation on scrapping health and safety rules
- 28 November 2011
- From the section UK Politics
The government is launching a consultation on the abolition of "large numbers" of health and safety rules following an independent review.
It says it wants to have removed the first regulations from the statute book within a few months.
Following the Lofstedt review, a "challenge panel" is also being created for businesses unhappy with health and safety rulings made against them.
The employment minister said the moves would "root out needless bureaucracy".
The government says there are currently about 200 health and safety regulations, but this will be reduced by more than half over the next three years.
Excessive health and safety has been blamed for the banning of low-risk activities, such as royal wedding street parties, and the cancellations of school trips.
The review was carried out by Prof Ragnar E Lofstedt, director of the Centre for Risk Management at King's College London.
He concludes that the problem "lies less with the regulations themselves and more with the way they are interpreted and applied".
His report says "there are instances where regulations designed to address real risks are being extended to cover trivial ones", and adds that the requirement to carry out risk assessments "has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare for some businesses".
Prof Lofstedt makes a number of recommendations to ensure that in future employers are not held responsible for damages in cases where they have done everything possible to manage risks.
He also says self-employed people whose work poses no risk to others should be exempt from health and safety rules altogether.
That would include individuals who run online shops from their home, as well as others in office roles, such as accountants, computer programmers, solicitors and graphic designers.
Prof Lofstedt suggests that up to a million self-employed people could benefit from such an exemption.
At present, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) takes responsibility for regulating high-risk workplaces, like factories and mines, while local authorities monitor lower risk environments, like shops and hotels.
The review says that the involvement of more than 380 local authorities, each with their own priorities, had led to "real inconsistency" on health and safety matters.
To rectify this problem, it recommends that the HSE be given new powers to direct all council inspection and enforcement activities.
The report does also note that the scope to curb regulations in the UK was "severely limited" by the requirement to comply with European law.
It recommends that the government work more closely with the European Commission, particularly during a planned review of EU health and safety legislation in 2013, to ensure that both new and existing laws are genuinely based on real risks.
Employment Minister Chris Grayling said the government was accepting Prof Lofstedt's recommendations and hoped to "put common sense back at the heart of health and safety".
"Our reforms will root out needless bureaucracy and be a significant boost to the million self employed people who will be moved out of health and safety regulation altogether.
"We will also ensure our reforms put an emphasis on personal responsibility. It cannot be right that employers are responsible for damages when they have done all they can to manage the risk."
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health said it was in favour of "streamlining and simplification" of the regulations, but could not "see the scope for reducing the number by half without potentially putting workers and the public under increased risk of injury or ill health".
"We are keen to examine the detail of the report more closely, and to work with others to ensure that the implementation of any changes to the health and safety system are achieved without causing harm," head of policy and public affairs Richard Jones said.
Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association, said his organisation was "looking forward to working closely with the Health and Safety Executive to develop an approach which delivers national priorities in a consistent way".
But he said "the invaluable accountability, transparency, flexibility and local understanding that drives the work of councils" must be maintained.