UK health and safety faces overhaul

C&I Issue 7, 2011

The UK health and safety regime is to receive an overhaul that will mean fewer inspections for most businesses, but more emphasis on ‘higher risk’ sectors, which includes the chemical industry. At the same time, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) plans to enact a policy of ‘those who create risk should pay for their regulation’, potentially pushing up costs for chemical firms.

The new approach is part of the government’s drive to make the UK a more business friendly environment by cutting red tape and reducing bureaucracy. As part of this campaign it intends to reduce substantially the number of inspections carried out in the UK. In future, inspections are likely to fall by a third, which means there would be 11,000 fewer inspections each year. Other higher risk sectors that will retain automatic inspections include the offshore oil industry and nuclear facilities.

At the same time, the government intends to shift the cost of payment for the Executive from the public purse by penalising businesses that flout the rules. This means that companies that fail an inspection will have to carry the full cost of the inspection, as well as any fines levied. The government’s new plans were laid out in Good health and safety, good for everyone and closely mirrors the suggestions made by David Young, the then advisor to the prime minister, in his review of health and safety laws.

The review also appears to include a nod towards ending the practice of ‘gold plating’ EU legislation. Gold plating is where rules that are introduced as a result of EU directives are made even tougher when legislators write them into law. Any law that originated in Europe and was not simply copied straight into UK law will be examined to check that it does not ‘unnecessarily burden’ industry.

The Executive’s new approach comes on the back of cuts of 35% to its budget over the next four years as a result of the comprehensive spending review, which was completed in October 2010 (C&I, 2010, 21, 14). This has led to concerns that a shortfall in funding could be made up for by increasing the failure rate of these high risk sites.

Peter Newport, director of the Chemical Business Association, which represents UK chemicals SMEs, says there is a risk that the inspection failure rate will increase to fill the funding hole. He adds: ‘The chemical industry is already paying fees so there is not a level playing field across Europe as not all health and safety regulators have a cost recovery scheme.’

David Gartside, HSE board member, said: ‘The continuing focus on the major hazard industries is essential. Strategically important to the country, they have made good progress in building greater awareness and commitment to process safety. However, much further effort is required, whether to meet the challenges of ageing assets in certain sectors or enabling emerging technologies in others.’

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