By Daniel Hunter

Companies shouldn't panic about the Health & Safety Executive's (HSE) new fees for intervention (FFI) because avoiding the charges can be straightforward, according to Michael Slade, Managing Director of health and safety specialist Bibby Consulting & Support.

The FFI scheme is part of the Health and Safety (Fees) Regulations 2012 which, although still subject to parliamentary approval, is very likely to come into force next week .The scheme enables the HSE to recover its costs directly from those businesses that are found to have "materially" breached health and safety legislation.

There is no doubt that FFI does mark a significant change, Slade said, but contrary to reports by some health and safety firms, there is absolutely no need for employers to seek out radical solutions. The key to avoid paying the fees is simple - companies just have to comply with their duties under health and safety law so that the HSE has no grounds to take enforcement action; this is nothing new.

While companies could face charges based on £124 per hour, it is worth pointing out that businesses are unlikely to receive multiple charges if there are several breaches of health and safety law, again a point which some organisations have misreported, possibly deliberately in order to create unnecessary concern, said Slade.

It should also be stressed that the HSE will only charge fees for intervention when an inspector finds a "material breach". This means that the breach is so serious that the inspector chooses to put his or her concerns in writing, issue an improvement or prohibition notice, and/or push for prosecution. Fees will not be applied for every contravention and no charges will be made for an inspector's time if they are not employed by the HSE - for example in industries that are regulated by a local authority, which would apply to a large proportion of UK businesses.

"With sound compliance advice and support, meeting health and safety duties for companies is perfectly straightforward and so is our advice to employers," said Slade. "There's no need to panic; don't listen to rumours or to those who try to blow the significance of the changes out of all proportion. I certainly wouldn't go to any unnecessary expense without serious consideration."

Slade concluded: "It's simple - if you comply with your duties under health and safety law you won't be subject to any form of enforcement action and so you will avoid FFI. End of story."

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