A bid to force small businesses to pay for their own health and safety inspections is being criticised by the Forum of Private Business. Under the ‘Fee for Intervention’ proposals, set to come into force October 2012, firms 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.
“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,” said the FPB’s chief executive, Phil Orford.
“The delicate 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, creating in all likelihood a postcode lottery for businesses concerning health and safety compliance and enforcement.
“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 last week submitted its concerns to a House of Lords committee tasked with scrutinising the plans, they will now be reviewed.
The Forum 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% of the FPB’s Health and Safety Panel members argued that businesses should pay the full cost of the Fee for Intervention operation. A total of 62% felt that recovery costs should be scaled according to the size of a business and more than 90% that either the size of the business or the seriousness of the breach should have an impact on the level of costs.
The panel was also asked to comment on the Government’s Löfstedt review of health and safety regulation. In all, 87% of panel members agreed with the review’s strategic aims, with the focus on common sense and streamlining laws particularly welcomed.