By Daniel Hunter

The Government has produced a misleading announcement on its plans to cut red tape to help businesses, a leading health and safety body said today (Monday).

Shops, offices, pubs and clubs will no longer face “burdensome” health and safety inspections, and over 3,000 regulations will be scrapped or overhauled in a “radical plan” by the Government to curb red tape and boost British business growth, according to a press release issued by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

From April next year, Business Secretary Vince Cable plans to introduce binding new rules on both the Health & Safety Executive and on local authorities, that will exempt hundreds of thousands of businesses from regular health & safety inspections, according to the BIS statement.

Richard Jones, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), said: “These sorts of announcements have been made before and it is very disappointing that everyone immediately starts pointing the finger at health and safety, which is always seen as an easy target.

“The talk of reducing around 3,000 regulations and at the same time focusing on health and safety is misleading. There are only 200 health and safety regulations in total, so any reduction in these will be a tiny percentage of the 3,000 and so far only 21 have been considered.”

Mr Jones said two recent government reviews, by Lord Young and Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, and the ‘red tape challenge’ all found the health and safety system in this country to be broadly ‘fit for purpose’

“The problem is with a misunderstanding of what the real requirements are — so we need better education on sensible management of risk,” he said. “There is an exaggerated fear of being sued in this country, fed by aggressive marketing, which the Government needs to tackle.

“Cuts to inspections are concerning — HSE already take a risk-based approach, which we support. We also support the need for consistent and high quality enforcement.

“However, we are concerned that businesses that currently benefit from proactive inspections and getting expert advice from ‘the horse’s mouth’ will lose out under this new regime. The end result is that standards may drop and more people are killed or injured.”

The Government is planning to introduce legislation next month to ensure that businesses will only be held liable for civil damages in health and safety cases if they can be shown to have acted negligently. BIS said this would end a situation “where businesses can automatically be liable for damages even if they were not actually negligent”.

Mr Jones added: “Good health and safety saves lives, supports business and sustains the economy. We support streamlining and getting rid of redundant legislation, but not a lowering of standards.

“It’s vital that people understand the massive benefits that good health and safety and regulation bring to the economy and the growth agenda. Government should be promoting this message.”

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