Posted by

Kamala Mackinnon, Campaigns Adviser

12 Sep 2012

Plans were also announced to remove or reduce over 3,000 regulations that affect businesses. In addition, the government will introduce legislation next month to ensure that businesses will only be held liable for civil damages in health and safety cases if they can be shown to have acted negligently; ending the current situation where businesses can be automatically liable for damages, regardless of their actions.

Equal treatment of low and high-risk firms has long been an unnecessary burden to businesses and efforts to reduce these regulations will be welcome news to many firms. Ensuring low-risk workplaces are exempted from inspections is a sensible change that will save employers time and money without reducing the safety of workers. In particular, the removal of the ‘strict liability’ currently attached to some health and safety regulations will reduce an important burden on employers. The threat of being found liable for a health safety claim, even when the employer has not been negligent, is enough to put anyone off running their own business.

No one disputes the importance of good health and safety regulations in the workplace; the safety of workers is of paramount importance. There is no doubt that sensible rules are needed to prevent serious accidents, particularly in high-risk workplaces, however the current regime goes further than this. Speaking to businesses across the country, it is clear that in some cases health and safety legislation has gone too far. This only adds to business leaders fears of a ‘compensation culture’. These changes will help lay to rest these concerns for many low-risk businesses.   

Unhelpfully, media attention often focuses on sensationalist ‘health and safety gone mad’ stories, rather than on the day-to-day burdens red tape places on businesses trying to grow and innovate. Ambiguity and poor interpretation of the law sometimes allows regulation to be applied indiscriminately and unintelligently. As a consequence a 2011 BCC survey of almost 6,000 businesses found that nearly one in two employers believe that health and safety regulations are extremely or fairly burdensome. This contrasts with only one in five that believe it is not burdensome.

The changes announced on Monday should go some way to reducing the costly burden of unnecessary regulation to low risk businesses and  will help reduce concerns of a ‘compensation culture’ that many businesses fear. However, these must form part of a broader deregulatory package for businesses. The government claimed that this wider package of deregulation would be delivered by the scrapping or improvement of 3,000 regulations through the Red Tape Challenge (the government’s flagship initiative to help reduce red tape).