The consultation for the HSE proposal to charge businesses when it finds material Health & Safety breaches has ended. The consultation documents received 12,000 downloads; yet only 290 responses were submitted; surely too few to build up a decent picture. However the scheme has been approved and will be implemented from the 6th April 2012.
The scheme is currently being tested by the HSE in various parts of the country; to gauge what the Duty Holders (businesses) think; senior HSE managers are taking part in this project. It is intended to use the knowledge gained to form the basis of a leaflet the HSE will produce as guidance.
So what does this really mean to UK businesses?
- Firstly the HSE are keen to promote that compliant businesses “will not pay a penny” and they will look to apply a lighter touch where a business is seen to be doing the right things;
- The definition of a Material Breach has been changed to include, when in the opinion of an inspector, “there has been a contravention of Health & Safety law that requires written notification of the contravention to the Duty Holder” ;
- Duty holders will be able to challenge the notification and this will be arbitrated by a senior HSE manager;
- Any intervention will be charged at a rate of £124 per hour; although where specialist HSE expertise is required (e.g. the HSE Laboratory) then higher costs may apply. These costs will be applied on a 6 minute basis and will include all HSE input until the Breach has been closed out or until a case is presented to the courts.
We understand that inspectors will not be set personal fee recovery targets; yet some are concerned about the principle of Fee for Intervention and have decided to leave the HSE. What will happen to the funds collected from the businesses is still to be defined.
Clearly this is a very different approach for the regulators and time will tell as to what types of issues will come from these changes. Many feel the approach is going to put up barriers between businesses and the HSE and some question how a business might pay for the HSE input and the costs of putting the Breach right. Others fear that once the scheme is established there will be a change of direction to setting inspectors fee recovery targets.
At MESH we feel there is an alternative which is for businesses to take a proactive approach to their health & safety. If the right advice is sought then a business should be confident that:
- They will receive the HSE lighter touch as they will be managing the risks effectively;
- The costs will be much less than if the HSE charges were to be applied;
- That health & safety will provide a positive business driver; as opposed to any HSE intervention which is likely to be posted on the HSE database for all to see.
Why not take the step of checking if you are health & safety compliant before the 6th April after which time it could prove very costly not to be?