Time to end the 'one-size-fits all' approach to health and safety

A BCC survey finds that health and safety laws are putting businesses off making new hires. But the employer group thinks it has a possible solution.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
With its propensity for unflattering hard hats and signs depicting the obvious, it’s probably fair to say that health and safety regulation is not exactly adored by the business community. But now a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce has suggested that health and safety laws are more than just an irritation – they’re actively preventing businesses from creating new jobs. That’s the kind of stat that should prick up the ears of any passing minister…

The BCC found that almost half of the 6,000 businesses surveyed felt that complying with health and safety laws was a burden. And it’s preventing small businesses from growing, too: of the 1,000 sole traders it interviewed, a fifth said regulatory compliance has put them off the idea of hiring a member of staff. And we’re not just talking about relatively dangerous trades like construction, either; sole traders in ‘low-risk’ sectors like media were just as likely to be deterred.

Now, the argument for health and safety regulation is fairly obvious – at least if you’re generally in favour of fewer workplace accidents. Indeed, the BCC says the problem isn’t with the laws themselves, but with the Health and Safety Executive’s ‘one size fits all’ approach to the legislation.

At the moment, there are apparently 131 separate regulations on the Government’s ‘Red Tape Challenge’ list, compliance with all of which is compulsory for all businesses. But the BCC argues that a better solution would be for the HSE to create a system that assesses workplaces on their level of risk – so while ordinary offices would, presumably, be seen as relatively low-risk and thus have fewer regulations to comply with, warehouses or construction sites would fall into the higher-risk category.

This might sound a bit melodramatic, but you can see the point. Apparently, the administrative burden created by health and safety laws is costing the economy £4bn a year – and just as importantly, constraining employment growth. Which means it’s an issue that’s worthy of Government attention sooner rather than later…

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