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Gold plating or feather bedding?

Regular visitors to this blog will know that I believe that if you make something easy to do, people are more likely to do it. That principle lies behind HSE’s drive over recent years to simplify regulations and guidance – especially with small and medium sized enterprises in mind. We know we have reached over 1million SMEs with our "Easy as ABC" guidance.

So, when I read with incredulity an announcement earlier this month from the Forum for Private Business (FPB) that declared ‘The cost of compliance for the UK’s 1.2 million micro, small and medium sized businesses is £20 billion of actual costs and £41 billion if you include opportunity costs’, I decided to do a bit of research of my own.

FPB’s report claims its members spend an average of £970 per year on health and safety specialists, but the Forum also provides its own health and safety advice service to its members – some of which may be free to members or ‘at very competitive rates’.

As a non-member I couldn’t gain access to the details, the claims on the FPB website concern me; "Due to the complex nature of health and safety legislation, please only use these templates as a guide. Without the Forum’s legal protection insurance and prior discussion with the member helpline, any action you take based on these documents may be invalid"

"All businesses no matter how small, must comply with health and safety legislation, and the average fine for breaching health and safety regulations has risen to £16,730"

I couldn’t find any reference to proportionality to level of risk, or to the real possibility of small low risk businesses easily being able to do things for themselves by referencing the do it yourself advice on HSE’s website

The Better Regulation Executive’s (BRE) 2007 study "Regulation and Business Advice" estimated the UK market was then at around £1.4 billion. I would be the first to acknowledge that some of that advice will be very helpful. I have often encouraged trade bodies to develop guidance of their own for their members because of the knowledge of the sector – but how much of it is over the top?

Advisors will understandably look to give comprehensive advice that goes beyond regulatory compliance and includes measures to satisfy people like insurers by reducing risk of insurance claims – but it’s a bit lazy to call this "health and safety compliance" – in part this is about choosing whether to transfer or retain financial risk – not about legal compliance at all.

And then there’s the focus on paperwork which is completely out of line with our emphasis on managing the risks.. It’s the paperwork that makes risk assessment a bugbear, not thinking about the risks and doing something about the really serious ones which is what we require people to do.

We will continue to look for ways in which we can make health and safety easy for small businesses because we want to see them making an ever increasing contribution to the economy of this country which includes keeping their employees safe and well at work. I can’t help feeling its time others started to look at the "tape" –and burden - which their advice to business creates – they may not think its red but some of it looks that way to me!

2016-04-13