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39 per cent of SMEs say health and safety ‘feels like paperwork’: HSE survey

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Over a third of small businesses (39 per cent) believe that procedures for managing health and safety risks in their workplace are ‘excessive and disproportionate’, HSE research has revealed.


The regulator completed insight work including a survey of 2,000 SMEs in order to understand the impacts of ‘blue tape’ – rules set by businesses rather than legal requirements. The findings were presented to HSE board on 12 June.

They show that 35 per cent of SMEs see ‘no real link’ between what they have to do for health and safety, and actually keeping employees safe. Further, 39 per cent of businesses said they feel that taking responsibility for health and safety ‘just feels like more and more paperwork’, with no obvious health and safety benefit.

The paper is a draft policy paper, setting out HSE’s work that will follow to tackle disproportionate approaches to health and safety management.

“HSE is not opposed to market innovation, or duty holders aiming for ‘best in class’ status. But our focus will necessarily be on promoting more appropriate and effective use of them to improve health and safety outcomes,” says the paper.

SMEs’ policies and practices are subject to a wide range of rules, which cumulatively outrank the impact on them from regulation and enforcement, it says.

Use of rules or systems need to be context-sensitive, especially when used in relation to low-risk activities, says HSE

It says there need to be more accountability for the impact of rules on the health and safety system. “More often than not, rules tend to be blurred with ‘red tape’, and reported as such. Government is then charged with driving improvements, even when something other than regulation has been identified as the source of the problem.”

Rules include insurers’ requirements and the wider fear of civil litigation. Also, the use of accreditation schemes and verified standards such as ISO 45001 for procurement. “This has value,” says the report approved by Head of Regulation, Engagement and Policy Clive Fleming, “but their use for assurance purposes needs to be proportionate and context-sensitive, especially when used in relation to low-risk activities.”

Work to follow the paper could include HSE guidance for SMEs on navigating the rules to help give them the confidence to dispense with unnecessary paperwork. Also, steps to help reform the system, while recognising that rules can play a ‘valuable role’.

“Our communication will make clear that they’re not all bad, and that HSE is not opposed to market innovation, or duty holders aiming for ‘best in class’ status. But our focus will necessarily be on promoting more appropriate and effective use of them to improve health and safety outcomes.”

However, HSE will also consider monetising some of the advice it itself proposes to issue. “We are also considering a potential win/win for HSE through commercial development of CPD materials to help health and safety consultants articulate what a proportionate and effective approach to health and safety looks like.”

There are 5.7 million SMEs in the UK, making up 99 per cent of all businesses, according to the most recent statistics from Parliament.

 

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