The Lord Young Report makes a welcome attempt to curb the litigation culture, control disproportionate action on health and safety in low risk environments and curtail the operations of unqualified and incompetent health and safety consultants.
The Report also aims to assist small, low-risk businesses in reducing perceived health and safety bureaucracy. All of these are welcome objectives.
The report fails, however, to address one of the real issues in health and safety today – the often disproportionate, over-bureaucratic and impractical approaches of many enforcement officers.
These people have little understanding of business, and often do not have a sound understanding of the legal requirements they enforce.
The attempt by the HSE to make a simple interactive risk assessment tool for small businesses illustrates a political response to the simplification challenge, as opposed to any serious attempt to assist small businesses, or reduce risks, or indeed meet legal requirements.
Any small business owner using the assessment (taking only 20 minutes) will be given a wonderful sense of security. Confident in thinking they have done the right thing.
They will be assured that if they have tested the fire alarm ‘regularly’, instructed staff in the use of potentially dangerous machinery within a month of starting work and had a ‘check’ on their gas appliances at least annually; they will be fully compliant on such issues.
They will, therefore, receive a nasty surprise when they find that their regular, six monthly testing of the fire alarm was inadequate (it should have been weekly), the check on the gas appliance carried out by their handyman was meant to have been undertaken by a gas-safe, registered engineer, and the new starter amputated their fingers when clearing the blockage in the office shredder on their first day at work, weeks before being given the planned instruction at the end of the month.
They will also be shocked when there is a Legionella outbreak, or their passenger lift falls down the shaft, injuring their staff, that the risk assessment did not seem to have any questions about Legionella controls or statutory inspections. As their business burns down, due to an electrical fault, they will be somewhat annoyed that the assessment did not seem to mention that their electrical installation should have been tested and inspected by a competent electrician at least every five years and their insurers are refusing to pay out.
The small business owner will then wish that, instead of wasting their own time trying to unravel the guidance from the HSE website, or being guided by officials with dubious competence, they had focussed their minds on running their day-to-day business activities and obtained some competent advice from a pragmatic, but qualified, health and safety consultancy which would have quickly kept them on the right track and saved them a small fortune.
The small business owner will conclude, as their business goes into liquidation and their house is repossessed by the bank, that in the same way as managing their accounting and employment law issues this would have been better served by obtaining professional advice and assistance rather than trying to find the (wrong) answer themselves!
Ian Clements is Managing Director of Quadriga Health and Safety and has extensive experience in advising Boards of Directors about Health and Safety. Quadriga provides specialist health and safety consultancy and training to a wide range of clients including Lloyd’s Register, Nuffield Health, Priory Healthcare and Virgin Media.
Do you agree with Ian’s comments? See him, along with an expert panel discuss the Lord Young Report live on Wednesday 10th November. All you need to do is click here to register.
All the contents of the Barbour Blog posts, constitute the opinion of the Author, and the Author alone; they do not represent the views and opinions of the Author’s employers, supervisors, or organisation nor do they represent the view of Barbour EHS, or businesses / institutions associated with Barbour EHS.