Why 'elf n' safety is costing us £300m a year

The government says health and safety reforms could save small businesses nearly £300m. That's rich...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

If you’re a small business owner, just the thought of health and safety regulations probably brings on a mild headache. Well, prepare for that mild ache to grow into a resentful throb: you’ve probably been wasting money on it too.

A report out this week by the Better Regulation Executive, part of the Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR to its friends) has revealed that the average UK small business spends more than 20 hours a year trying to meet health and safety requirements – equivalent to a cost of £350. BERR says that, with better advice and support, these businesses could cut the time spent on health and safety issues by five hours. That’s a saving of roughly £88 per business, which on a countrywide basis, amounts to a hefty £150m.

The report also challenged some of the ‘mystique’ surrounding the 1,500 health and safety consultancy firms operating in the UK, with collective annual sales of over £1bn. Apparently, in most cases, businesses paying for these services could do the same job more cheaply in-house. In fact sometimes, they’re paying for stuff they don’t even need (feeling resentful yet?). The authors of the report said that if just 20% of low-risk businesses turned to the Health and Safety Executive for support instead, they could make an annual £140m saving (albeit the HSE will have to smarten up its act first).

BERR is advocating a lighter-touch regime for small, low-risk businesses – but the unions aren’t happy about this one bit. The TUC’s Brendan Barber says the UK’s small businesses have an ‘appalling health and safety record’, with half failing to carry out risk assessments despite ‘the growing incidence of workplace ill-health’. He argues that in order to protect workers, the HSE should actually be given greater powers of scrutiny – an idea that will probably horrify many small business owners.

Incidentally, if you’re labouring under the misapprehension that health and safety red tape is cumbersome and onerous, it turns out that it’s all our fault. According to the BRE, negative perceptions of ’elf n’ safety are all down to malicious journalists undermining support for the regime by focusing on relatively minor incidents (like schools banning conkers) or citing things that actually don’t fall under HSE’s remit at all. This apparently trivializes the very serious paper cu- sorry, workplace injuries that can occur (see, there we go again).

On the other hand, it does seem a bit rich for the government to be telling small businesses how much money they’re wasting on compliance, when they were the ones responsible for introducing most of this red tape in the first place....

In today's bulletin: 
RBS adds to woes with record loss
RDAs: a waste of £15bn?
Why 'elf n' safety is costing us £300m a year
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