Loose talk from politicians about regulatory burdens does nothing to help create effective health and safety regulation.
If you asked those directly involved or interested in managing the risk of workplace injury and ill health to list the reforms to our health and safety law system currently in progress, it is likely few would be able to provide more than a partial answer. That applies equally to me.
There is a significant programme of reform underway. While much of it flows from Professor Ragnar Löfstedt's review of our framework of health and safety law, published as 'Reclaiming health and safety for all: An independent review of health and safety legislation', there are reforms and changes in training too including extending the powers of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to recover the costs of its enforcement activity where the duty holder is found to have been in breach of the law.
Opinions from politicians about the need to reduce the burden of 'unnecessary' and 'disproportionate' health and safety law consistently fail to weigh the balance of the economic, social and health contribution that our mature health and safety regulatory and management systems framework delivers.
The reform programme and the goal of keeping employees healthy and safe is not helped by loose remarks made by politicians about the burden that our regulatory framework poses. Maybe this is a major policy area where evidence of the benefits of health and safety, when managed effectively and proportionately, is swept under the carpet.
When you weigh up the financial benefits of the health and safety reforms that have been implemented so far, you would be hard pushed to describe them as a significant contribution to reducing bureaucracy, bringing down operating costs and as a stimulus for economic growth.
The savings to employers from the RIDDOR reforms, the increase from three to seven days before an injury needs to be reported, is miniscule and pales into insignificance when compared with the money that will be recovered under 'Fee for Intervention'.
In its submission to the HSE's consultation this summer on the proposed review and reform of approved codes of practice (ACOPs), the British Safety Council made reference to the concerns expressed by some of our members about their and the HSE's capacity to adapt to the changes due for our regulatory framework.
Industry needs to be given the time to implement and adapt to changes that occur from the review and reforms. We also need to recognise that HSE has limited capacity to deal with the mountain of work to review and reform the law and the supporting guidance.
Earlier this year the government published a report on the implementation of health and safety reforms in which progress was set out on the 21 recommendations made in the Löfstedt report. It is fair to say that there has been reasonable progress in taking the ambitious reform agenda forward including, for example, exempting certain self-employed workers from health and safety law, relaxing RIDDOR reporting requirements, revoking unnecessary or redundant regulations, and reducing the time taken in investigating health and safety breaches with a view to prosecution.
However, at the time of writing very little regulatory reform has been enacted. Big changes - including reform of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, a major revision of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and significant reform of Approved Codes of Practice - are still to come.
These reforms only represent a fraction of those set out in 'Reclaiming health and safety for all'. While the cost of regulation needs to be effectively controlled, and unnecessary burdens avoided, what has not been accurately calculated is the time, effort and resource that employers will need to devote not only to staying abreast of the changes, but carrying them through into their workplaces. They will have to ensure that their health and safety policies, management systems and working arrangements accurately reflect the changes to our health and safety law.
At present we have no real idea of what the impact will be of the reform package in its entirety - in terms of preventing workplace injury, disease and ill health - and therefore no real sense of the costs and benefits involved.
Neal Stone is director, policy & communications, at the British Safety Council (www.britsafe.org).