‘Health and Safety legislation imposes an unnecessary financial burden on business’
Employment sectors in the United Kingdom have been subjected to numerous rules in recent times that seek to decrease the occurrence of grievous injuries in the work environment. The implementation of proper health and safety regulations has been made mandatory in order to secure the wellbeing and safety of the workers. Sensible rules that ensure workplace safety are always welcomed by the employers. But the present safety and health legislation has begun to affect other aspects of the business throughout the country. The disproportionate nature of the legislation has turned out to be a bane instead of the promised boon for businesses based in the UK. The ambiguous character of the law facilitates misinterpretation of the context and this has often led to indiscriminate and unintelligible application in case of low-risk commerce. Moreover, reports suggest that European Union rules are being gold-plated to affect various UK firms in a negative manner .
The present scenario in the UK deems it necessary to make the current health and safety regulation more specific to the industry in order to reduce some of the burden on low-risk workplaces. The regulations must be maintained strictly only when they are appropriate and necessary. There are numerous safety and health laws that come across as entirely unreasonable and unnecessary. One of the most common ones is the fact that no distinction is to be made between the way that home workers employed in low-risk surroundings and on-site workers are treated. Several businesses have now begun to consider the new health and safety legislation as nothing more than a hindrance on their path to success since it effectively serves as a barrier to the rising number of employees in the UK business sector.
There are 131 health and safety laws in the UK at present but they are not absolute and can be modified to make them more consolidated and simple without reducing employee safety. The modern trend of health and safety legislation detracts the UK businesses from enhancing their financial growth and forming new employment opportunities. The Government must, therefore, understand the predicament of the business sector in the country and attempt to reduce the volume as well as the related bureaucracy of the regulations .
Attempts have been made previously by government officials to change the legislation and make it more beneficial to businesses without decreasing any effectiveness. Lord Young had submitted a report in the year 2010 titled “Common Sense Common Safety” and it had been welcomed by many commerce organisations in the UK. His proposals were not only long overdue and practical but possessed the potential to protect the interests of the business sector in the UK. The report would have saved substantial amount of money and time. He reinforced the point that safety and health laws should not be applied to offices and dangerous environments in the same way. The report called attention to the fact that there were too many burdens involved in permitting employees to carry on their work from home such as the regulations made under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which applied to both employees working at the workplace of the employer as well as home workers. The terms of management stated by the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 make it compulsory for employers to conduct risk assessment of work activities performed by home workers at home.
Similarly, the UK government itself made some announcements in the recent past pertaining to safety and health that were not only positive but definitely a step in the right direction. But in terms of implementation, some of the major recommendations by Lord Young have not seen the light of day. The government needs to prioritise these recommendations in the future since they highlight the difficult and extreme nature of the new legislation that increases the expenses of the employer but does not offer any realistic protection to the staff. In the period between 1984 and 1993, most of the health and safety regulations in the UK originated from Europe. Therefore, the UK government needs to collaborate with other European partners to examine both the incoming regulation flow as well as the stock of regulations derived from the European Union.
The majority of employers in the UK believe that the present safety and health regulations are rather cumbersome and unnecessarily pose problems to the business sector. There are only a handful of employers who are fine with the terms of the health and safety legislation. In terms of business size, micro organisations seem to possess a slightly improved perception of safety and health guidelines compared to business consisting of ten employees which shares a perception similar to a business with more than two hundred employees. The reaction of the employers working in various sectors differs to a considerable extent, indicating the recognition of some sort of proportionality in the way the laws are applied to the workplaces with separate risk levels. But there are still numerous firms present in the low-risk areas of business that consider the safety and health regulations to be blocking their growth .
Several individuals in the UK who work alone viewed the present health and safety laws as a significant obstacle to employing their first staff member. However, this fact does not differ across sectors as much as it does in cases where employers already possess workers, indicating for individuals who are employed in low risk industries, the burdens have not been felt to a considerable extent. There is no doubt that health and safety regulations have caused quite a stir in the business sector of the UK. But too often, the attention seems to be focused on specific, well-publicised events that indicate the negative impact of the current health and safety legislation rather than vital issues that threaten businesses in the UK. It is necessary for the HSE or Health and Safety Executive to realise that in most SMEs, no provisions are present for a dedicated safety and health department and so, there is a clear lack of specialist staff in the company. The SMEs do not have been exempted entirely from the conventional health and safety regulations but some amount of flexibility needs to be offered when dealing with minor firms. The regulation level needs to be gauged and a suitable point established for them.
The vast volume of laws that companies have to deal with on a daily basis often leads to the formation of a ‘tick box’ attitude. In terms of safety and health regulations, this can be detrimental to the performance of a business and remains in opposition to the laws of safety and health legislation. Health and safety regulation must not be devalued due to the establishment of a culture of ‘over cautiousness’ within the framework of the workplace. SMEs in the UK are normally not aware whether they are complying with the present health and safety regulations in an effective manner. This is not an indicator of their incompetence but rather a product of the confusion encompassing the legislation on health and safety. A lot of the issues stem from the poor presentation of the laws as well as the misdirection of the mentioned applications. In several instances, this appears to be a direct result of the fact that the safety and health regulations are taught mostly in an inaccurate method. Businesses in the UK are sometimes too cautious and over-compliant due to the scare stories and myths surrounding the regulations that have been fabricated over the course of time. So, the two most pressing issues for the business sector in recent times are misunderstanding and interpretation. Improved marketing methods adopted by HSE in the UK might prove helpful in terms of enhancing the situation. But the budget of the HSE has been reduced by almost 35% and this might affect the intensity of their marketing campaign. The amount of information made available for the benefit of businesses might go down drastically.
The SMEs also need to deal with the volume problem in case of regulatory bodies for health and safety. The common idea is there is an absence of communication across different local authorities and regulatory bodies, especially during the process of establishment of a new business. More than 3,200 regional authority inspectors have been employed for the purpose of safety and health duties. In certain cases it is noticed that the laws are basically effective legislation pieces. But they usually translate into obligatory and inflexible regulations that demand compliance from businesses in the UK . It is important to note that the main avenues of litigation via which businesses are prosecuted for their inactions or actions that are not related to their misconduct are limited.
The legislation system in the UK has sought an extension beyond the directives of the European Union to include the self-employed section of the public. Several legislations are exclusively meant for the self-employed and they probably have to undertake risk management in terms of their own safety and health at work as well as other possible risks for the commercial sector. In sectors that have low-risk, the HSE should attempt to exempt the self-employed from the framework of the legislation. This would not only improve the perception of safety and health among the key sectors of the UK market like media, marketing and research but make it easier for companies to follow the health laws.
Though most of the laws established by the HSE are rather burdensome for the progress of business in the UK, some of them in particular are more draconian in nature than the others. They cause unnecessary trouble for businesses in the country. The most important among these laws is the requirement to have selected first-aid personnel for monitoring the workplace. It cannot be denied that it is important to hire qualified first aid personnel at the work site, especially in workplaces with high levels of risk. But it is not reasonable to appoint a special individual to handle first aid arrangements at the work site for minor low-risk businesses, like office spaces. On the other hand, a second person may be necessary to take charge of the position when the selected individual remains absent from the workplace owing to annual leave or health issues. An in-depth analysis of the associated costs and impact of the need for a business revealed that in terms of benefit or cost, a person in charge of dispensing first aid would have to intervene in order to conserve an average of 1.8 days’ worth of lost time each year owing to illness or injury before it becomes possible to demonstrate any economic advantage . This poses an unreasonable strain on the UK SMEs in sectors with low-risk and especially micro businesses.
It is a known fact that the reports submitted by the first aid personnel appointed in the business are rarely used and it is a direct proof of the fact that an unnecessary burden exists on micro businesses due to the implementation of this regulation in the UK. So, micro businesses that are conducted in low risk environments like offices should be exempted from this health and safety regulation. This will provide the government an easy method to decrease the compliance burden on the various businesses which take part in low-risk actions and for whom the mandate to possess a professional first-aider on the site is completely unnecessary .
Another important regulation of 2010 on health and safety that has sorely inconvenienced the UK workplace is the control of artificial optical radiation in the workplace. The main aim of this regulation happens to be the protection of workers from the exposure to hazardous artificial sources of light like laser displays. Exposure to ultraviolet, visible light and infrared light also falls under this specific category of regulation. Continued exposure to specific sources of light may prove to be harmful for various organs of the body such as the skin and the eyes. Employers in the UK already apply a tactic to lower the threat of UV exposure as well as optical radiation in the workplace under the provision of the Management of Health and Safety in the Work settings. This directive from the government seems to leading to new burdens and costs on employers without enhancing the protection of the workers.
According to the Impact Assessment of the HSE, it is not possible for the directive to offer any extra benefit to the system of safety and health in the UK. This is mainly owing to the fact that the nature of the risks are clearly understood and tackled by those industries where the use of sources is common. However, the main criterion for regulatory assessment in the UK is that the policies which intend to safeguard human health must exhibit positive advantages . It is surprising to note that the same report maintains that harm due to this case rarely occurs. HSE mentions that regulating in the UK does not support the sensible risk debates. If duty holders misinterpret the regulations in the UK, they might subsequently lead to unnecessary risk assessments as well as related costs. The directive in terms of health and safety issues does not offer any benefit to the employees of a business but instructs business costs. This makes it an unnecessary addition to the UK health and safety legislation and must not be treated in any manner different to domestic regulations. The UK government needs to re-examine the possible implementation of the current legislation in order to minimise the amount of pressure on the business sector.
The present health and safety legislation makes it compulsory for UK-based businesses to control the amount of vibration in the work sphere. Introduced in the year 2005, this regulation imposes a kind of duty on employers to ensure no change occurs in the health of the workers due to exposure to vibration, irrespective of whether this happens to be caused from the use of hand-guided or hand-held power tools, standing or sitting for long periods of time on industrial vehicles or machines, or handling holding materials being processed by technology. In order to properly gauge the level of impact this particular regulation has on the businesses in the UK, it becomes necessary to know that the law costs businesses more than £230 million each year and very few businesses actually support this legislation. It must be kept in mind that the costs of work-related ill-health and accident are the responsibility of the cheque clearing department in a specific financial services agency. The costing information can be used as part of a risk management approach to safety and health . This happens to be one of the most expensive safety and health regulations, and it is expected that this particular legislation will be subjected to re-examination in the future to make alterations that will enable businesses to implement it in the workplace without spending a large fortune on an annual basis.
The most controversial legislation deals with the treatment of both lone workers and home-workers. The new safety and health legislation in the UK leads to a disproportionate burden on the employers in the business sector since it is unable to directly distinguish between frequent home-working and routine home-working as well as the recognition of work conducted in low or high risk environments. Lord Young put forward the recommendation that this specific regulation needs to be changed immediately for workers in low-risk environments and fortunately, it was accepted by the government. The United Kingdom government has entered into negotiations to work with other member states of the European Union in order to enhance the power of the source Directive. However, some actions can still be implemented on a national scale. The current health and safety legislation is in desperate need of better guidance and this should be a high priority for the HSE. Businesses as well as the objectives of the government always thrive under flexibility. The present health and safety regulations currently pose a disproportionate burden to the efficient functioning of the UK labour market. Large events in the UK bring home-working into the limelight and it is extremely important to deal with the bottlenecks caused by the regulations.
There are several recommendations that can be followed in order to decrease the pressure on the UK businesses. The government needs to recognise the high-risk businesses are different from low-risk businesses and do not warrant similar treatment. The low-risk businesses should not be treated in a manner similar to businesses with high levels of risks. In order to increase the efficacy of the current safety and health methods, the government must tailor the enforcement and regulations in a suitable manner. This will allow for the minimisation of the economic burden on the UK business sector . Since the nature of high-risk differences varies considerably from low-risk businesses, it is not ideal to treat the both of them in the same manner since it leads to unnecessary expense of money and time by the business. Therefore, the government needs to notice that this regulation is in need of immediate change.
The cumulative burden of the workplace often seems to undermine the perception of the individual regulations of safety and health. The manner in which businesses approach safety and health happens to be shaped through the overall amount of regulations to which they are subjected on a regular basis by the individual regulations. If small businesses are subjected to too heavy a cumulative burden, it will not only cost them a tremendous amount of money but the entire process will be highly time-consuming. So, this might lead to the emergence of the dreaded ‘tick box’ culture that remains the complete polar opposite of the principles of quality safety and health in the workplace environment. The related bureaucracy and volume of the regulations need to be reduced in order to prove the effectiveness of the legislations .
In most cases, it is witnessed that perception triumphs over reality. The absence of clarity as well as periodical inconsistencies in the nature of the regulations as well as their associated expenses often results in over-compliance and over-caution which imposes numerous useless costs on businesses. The HSE has an information function which is instrumental and the government needs to take care of the fact that, in spite of cuts to the budget as well as restrictions placed on the amount of money spent on marketing for businesses, its information activities and its business engagement do not decrease.
The Davidson Review put forward some recommendations to the government which were just and took the plight of the UK business scenario into consideration. The Davidson Review recommendations of European Union legislation suggest that in environments with low-risk levels, the HSE needs to consider exempting the individuals that are self-employed from specific safety and health laws. This is going to considerably reduce the heavy burden that has been placed in recent times on these kinds of businesses in the UK.
The quality of the safety and health policy in the United Kingdom can be improved to a considerable extent through the effective elimination of duplication. Some of the directives of the European Union tend to duplicate the existing domestic regulations but at a greater cost of compliance. The Impact Assessment carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) indicates that in numerous cases, extra demands do not add any additional safety and health benefits. This is the main reason why the government needs to root out cases involving the duplication of EU safety and health directives since they pose a huge burden to businesses in the UK in terms of resources like money and time.
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