Guidance is not enough: Why the HSE Code of Practice matters
It seems odd that my first blog since being appointed Assistant General Secretary of the TUC should be on a pretty obscure health and safety issues. Given all that is going on in the world with unemployment, cuts, pensions, attacks on Trade Union rights and the general fall in living standards for everyone who is not a banker or company director, it may seem strange that one small decision has got me hot under the collar, that is the decision to remove an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) to the Management Regulations. Something I probably would not even have been aware of if a couple of unions had not brought it to my attention.
Now getting rid of some Code of Practice may not seem a big thing but safety professionals, campaign groups and trade unionists are enraged that, after consulting on whether to withdraw it, the HSE have decided to ignore the views of the large majority of respondents who wanted to keep this ACoP and have instead decided to bin it.
So what is the big deal? Well to some people it is a symptom of all that is wrong with what is happening to health and safety under this Government. The Management Regulations underpin the principle of risk assessment – one of the pillars of our health and safety system. The regulations themselves are short, simple and clear but to help employers implement them there is an ACoP which outlines what they will have to do to meet their legal requirement in more detail. The ACoP has been around almost as long as the regulations themselves and certainly needed updating but it covered a lot of things that are not covered elsewhere (including involving safety reps in risk assessments).
The HSE argue that everything in the ACoP is covered in guidance. That misses the point. An ACoP has different status from guidance and as any safety rep could have told them, employers are far more likely to do something because it is in an ACoP. That is not to say that guidance is not useful. The new HSG65 which is due to be published shortly is a great document but it is not an ACoP. Replacing an ACoP with guidance is simply downgrading it and giving it “nice to have” status. We have also seen other ACoPs be withdrawn and there seems a reluctance to bring in new ones.
I am not sure why the HSE has a problem with ACoPs. Employers organisations have said the like them, the Loftsedt Report seemed to generally support them, and H&S professionals say they find them invaluable. The only people with a problem with them seem to be the HSE.
And there lies the problem. I think people are annoyed at the decision to get rid of the Management Regulations ACoP because they simply can see no logic to the decision. No attempt seems to have been made to update it, and no convincing reason has been given for ditching it. It just seems to be a case of “we have been told to get rid of as much regulation as we can and this is one of the low hanging ones we can pick off easily”.
The professional body for health and safety professionals, IOSH, have started an on-line petition to try to get a parliamentary debate on this matter. I hope that as many of you sign it as possible. It is at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/46262