Planned changes to health and safety as part of the Deregulation Bill are being seen as a ‘backward step’, reveals a new survey by online specialists Cedrec.
The Bill is part of the Government’s on-going drive to remove unnecessary bureaucracy, which they believe is costing British businesses hundreds of millions of pounds, slowing down public services and hindering the lives of millions of people.
But Cedrec’s survey of 320 professionals has revealed overwhelming concerns about the impact it will have on health and safety law – reflecting the Health and Safety Executive’s verdict that the Bill paves the way for more confusion and a ‘licence for cowboys’.
One area of particular concern is over plans to scrap rules for self-employed in low risk occupations. These will formally exempt 800,000 people from safety regulation in a move that the Government claims will save businesses hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in compliance costs.
This is being driven by a change to a section of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, which places the requirements on self-employed people to ensure they protect others from harm or danger in the workplace.
However, more than three quarters (80%) of those surveyed by Cedrec said that the self-employed should not be exempt from health and safety regulations.
83% believed it would be harder to manage health and safety in relation to self-employed workers if the Bill comes into force as proposed, while over three-quarters (77%) foresaw problems with contractors.
The majority of those surveyed were negative about the proposals, calling into question the scope and purpose of exemptions. Many pointed to a lack of clarity while one respondent said “…as you create an exception, you create a loophole that could be exploited by unscrupulous employers…” Another respondent felt the move “…paves the way for many breaches of other legislation”.
Neil Howe, senior legal author at Cedrec, said the survey highlighted the concerns of many working in the health and safety sector that plans were a ‘backward step’, and agreed that greater clarity was needed.
“Any plan to exempt self-employed workers from their health and safety requirements is disappointing, and can only lead to confusion and complications – the very things the Deregulation Bill is supposed to be removing. So we, along with many others, want to see clarity about what regulations under the Health and Safety at Work Act will be affected. We also need to see changes to clarify terms such as ‘low risk’ and ‘relevant’. Of course the Government is concerned about the welfare of self-employed people but it needs to move swiftly to reassure people that this is actually the case. The idea that one worker should be subject to different rules to another is ludicrous. What will happen is that the self-employed will be unsure if they are covered or exempt. The law is the law, and that should go for everyone.”