Health and safety inspections to cost SMEs

A bid to force small businesses to pay for their own health and safety inspections has been being criticised by the Forum of Private Business.

A bid to force small businesses to pay for their own health and safety inspections has been being criticised by the Forum of Private Business (FPB).

Under the ‘Fee for Intervention’ proposals, which are set to come into force in October 2012, companies deemed to be in ‘material breach’ of health and safety regulations by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) would be forced to pay inspectors’ hourly rates from the moment the inspection begins, regardless of when a breach is detected.

FPB members are concerned that the HSE’s drive to recover costs could lead to a heavy-handed approach and inconsistency from individual inspectors over what constitutes a breach in the first place.

Forum chief executive Phil Orford says, ‘Businesses which deliberately flout health and safety rules should be brought to task but this is not how the vast majority operate – clearly it is not in their best interests to allow lax health and safety procedures to exist.

‘Our members want help, guidance and support, which is what our Health and Safety Guide provides, not ever more threats of financial penalties.’

Orford adds that the balance of trust between small business and regulators, which has shown tentative signs of improving recently, could be further complicated by what subjectively constitutes a ‘material breach’ according to different inspectors.

‘We want every government department to understand the significant financial demands on business at present, in this case from consultants and the HSE itself.

‘There needs to be greater understanding shown by enforcement officers that firms face a number of inspections from multiple agencies across all aspects of their business.’

The initial consultation into the Fee for Intervention proposals took place in October 2011. Following continued lobbying by the Forum, which recently submitted its concerns to a House of Lords committee tasked with scrutinising the plans, they will now be reviewed.

The lobbying group is putting forward evidence showing that business owners have serious doubts about the proposed system of charges. It is also calling for significant measures to ease health and safety red tape.

In May 2012, just 3 per cent of the Forum’s Health and Safety Panel members argued that businesses should pay the full cost of the Fee for Intervention operation. A total of 62 per cent felt that recovery costs should be scaled according to the size of a business and more than 90 per cent that either the size of the business or the seriousness of the breach should have an impact on the level of costs.

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