Business leaders fail to surprise
Today we see another report from business telling us what a burden all these rules and regulations from Europe are and how they need to be swept away. This time it’s from the Government’s Business Taskforce which is a group of six bosses from companies like Marks and Spencer and Diagio.
The report is exactly what you would expect if you are going to ask business leaders to write a report on regulation. It recycles everything we have heard before, this time with the addition of unsubstantiated costs which ignore the benefits that strong regulation bring. A whine-fest in other words.
One of the recommendations, which we have heard so many times before, is that smaller businesses should not have to keep records of risk assessments. Well as small businesses with less than five workers do not have to keep written risk assessments at the moment presumably they are talking about much bigger businesses. How big they do not say. They also say that it should be “low risk” employers, whatever they are. Perhaps they mean shops with their huge problems with slips trips falls, back problems, violence etc. or perhaps schools most of which have very high rates of stress etc. They do however say that removing the requirement to write down health and safety risk assessments could save businesses across the EU some €2.7 billion. This is nonsense. It will increase the cost by driving up injuries and occupational illnesses.
There is absolutely no case for changing the law. Only by having a written record can safety inspectors, insurers and safety representatives know that the employer is actually considering the safety of their workforce. Far too many small businesses are completely ignoring their responsibilities as it is. One survey showed that over half of small businesses had not done a basic risk assessment. Also the administration cost to the average business (not small business) is, according to the Government, just over £350 a year, and that was before the HSE brought in its on-line risk assessment tool which means they can do it (badly) on-line in just minutes.
What the proposal will of course do is make it even easier for them to ignore the law and simply not do any risk assessment. The requirement to do a written risk assessment is not a burden on business, it is there to help prevent the much bigger burden on workers and society. By doing a proper risk assessment, and acting on it, the vast majority of injuries and illnesses caused by work can be prevented.
The failure of employers to do this means that the burden falls on us. Last year 27 million working days were lost due to work-related illness. There were 212 000 over-3-day absence injuries and 111 000 injuries to employees were reported under RIDDOR. In addition there were the 20,000 people who died prematurely last year because of work. According to the HSE the cost society of these injuries and illnesses was £13.4 billion.
Many of these injuries were in the very kind of company that the Business Taskforce now wants to exempt. The Government, and the EU needs to be increasing compliance with health and safety legislation to reduce the huge number of injuries and illnesses caused through work, not reducing it.
Let’s have an EU strategy on health and safety that addresses the actual problems and plugs the gaping holes we have, not which adds a few more.