By Marcus Leach

Businesses will really need to tighten up their health and safety (H&S) compliance if they want to avoid hefty charges from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), a business body has warned.

Bibby Consulting & Support was reacting to the news that HSE is going to start charging for inspections — meaning that businesses could find themselves paying money out for 'material breaches' of regulations, even though they have not been prosecuted.

All businesses regulated by the HSE — excluding those in sectors such as chemicals and mining where separate charging regimes are already in place — will now have to pay charges for inspectors' time as well as the cost of serving enforcement notices and providing advice on health and safety failings that do not warrant prosecution. This cost recovery scheme is expected to generate revenue for the Executive of more than £43m a year.

The proposal is that if the HSE finds a material breach it will retrospectively charge from the start of a visit and then for time spent giving verbal advice, confirmation letters detailing the failing or Prohibition or Improvement Notices, as well as follow-up visits or phone calls to ensure the company has dealt with the breach.

The Executive estimates these costs will be around £750 for a breach that requires a letter to be sent and £1500 for serving a notice. The inspectors' time will be charged on an hourly rate of £133 but if field officers need specialist help to deal with a breach the costs could be much higher.

At the same time, to save money the HSE has closed down its information line which used to provide basic safety advice over the 'phone and from 30 September businesses will be expected to navigate around the HSE website for information relating to their problem.

"With these changes it is now more important than ever for businesses to comply fully with health and safety legislation because the cost of non-compliance is set to increase further with these hefty charges,” Michael Slade, Managing Director of Bibby Consulting & Support, said.

“In addition to the fines, the removal of the info line is another setback for small and medium businesses. It’s tough on those companies who are now being forced to look elsewhere for telephone support. The HSE info line provided a valuable service to many micro businesses and taking this away flies in the face of the government’s commitment to help businesses where H&S regulation is concerned."

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