Plant & Works Engineering

FFI: A question of attitude

Published:  25 September, 2012

 From cutting regulation to disseminating myths, the government is meeting its pledges to reform health and safety. However, with “‘Health and safety’ often incorrectly used as a convenient excuse to stop what are essentially sensible activities going ahead,” according to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), the organisation’s new Fee for Intervention (FFI) due to come into play in October should focus attention on having appropriate and effective health and safety processes in place. With estimates that the cost of investigating and correcting major breaches is likely to run into the thousands, the onus is on organisations to understand the implications of the revised regulations sooner rather than later.

However, as Matt St John, Head of Health & Safety Services, C&C Consulting explains, businesses should welcome the new, more concise regulatory landscape and expert health and safety advice to adopt a proactive attitude that will not only ensure compliance but also provide tangible financial benefits – from reduced insurance premiums to a more effective workforce. PWE reports.


When the current government came to office it announced a ‘bonfire’ of health and safety regulations in order to reduce the constraints on UK business associated with punitive and confusing legislation. More recently, the ‘Myth Busters Challenge Panel’ has been introduced to dispel some of the pervasive health and safety misinterpretations.

Both moves have been welcomed by health and safety professionals. The excessive amount of legislation – 17 acts of Parliament, 200 regulations and 54 approved Codes of Practice at the last count – has played a fundamental role in creating the current negative attitude to health and safety. Employers either don’t understand their requirements, causing over interpretation and potential overinvestment or make a grudge investment simply to ensure compliance and minimise directors’ liability.

Just a fraction of these employers have the time, resources or expertise to wade through regulations and ascertain which apply to the business.  For many, health and safety is assigned to an individual within the organisation as a secondary role. Unless employers ensure that adequate training is provided, it will be extremely difficult, if not almost impossible, for this individual to understand the issues or required processes. The consequent risk to the business is misinterpretation of the legislation and ultimately inadequate and ineffective health and safety processes that fail to protect both employee and employer.


Financial imperative

The financial cost only really comes to light when systems are properly challenged, in the event of accidents, for example. In reality, most organisations, especially those who have not experienced an accident or major breach, are likely to be failing to meet either regulation or health and safety best practice.  But this has got to change. The Government has committed to reducing the number of regulations, almost halving the impact on the workplace. The expectation is that the reduction in complexity should encourage organisations to take a more proactive approach to health and safety requirements.

Furthermore, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has also announced that its cost recovery scheme, Fee for Intervention, will start in October 2012.  The scheme sets out to recover costs from those who break health and safety laws for the time and effort HSE spends on helping to put matters right - investigating and taking enforcement action.  At £124 per hour to investigate a material breach, with costs including administration and travel, it is estimated that the costs could escalate into the thousands per incident. Should the breach also result in a prosecution, HSE will charge up to the point of producing the specification for prosecution and will then demand costs as part of the court case.

And for any organisation believing this activity will only affect larger businesses, think again. Any employer is legally required to appoint a competent person(s) to assist in meeting their health and safety duties. The changes currently being undertaken by Government and HSE therefore clearly apply to organisations of all sizes.


Proactive Approach

Of course, the drastic reduction in health and safety regulation may create its own problems; organisations will need to keep up to date with the changes to ensure they continue to have effective processes in place.  For most, the cost of employing in-house expertise is prohibitive; not only is the annual salary of a dedicated health and safety expert expensive, but with legislation changing twice a year, individuals require on-going training and professional competence.

There is also a concern that an in-house individual may be influenced either explicitly or sub-consciously by business issues or financial constraints. Indeed, the legislation requires that an employer appoints competent health and safety assistance – preferably internally or alternatively, externally through the use of independent safety experts to minimise that risk and draw a clear line between corporate objectives and health and safety requirements.

Critically, independent advice ensures organisations have a good interpretation of the legislation – based on both legal requirements and best practice; and there is no risk of excessive policies that undermine confidence in health and safety principles.

Instead, with improved understanding of health and safety requirements organisations can adopt a different approach. Insurance companies, for example, will reduce premiums if an organisation can demonstrate it has good processes in place, good health and safety management systems and a low rate of incidents.  In addition, fewer incidents means fewer claims, less accident related employee sick days, less overtime paid to colleagues to fill the gap, and less administration to manage.

The key is to be proactive: sending all drivers on Advanced Driving Courses, for example, is proven to reduce accident rates – cutting insurance claims, repair bills and non-productive time. The cost benefits are quantifiable.

The government’s plans to alter health and safety requirements have more than headline appeal; they should also provoke a sea-change in attitude. Health and safety is about far more than common sense: these regulations need real interpretation because what appears to be common sense to an office-based individual may not be common sense to the person tasked with undertaking the job or at risk of accident.

Good health and safety is not about box ticking, or simply complying with the law. With the right proactive approach and confidence in the relevance of expert health and safety advice organisations can begin to exploit the new era of clear, concise regulation to minimise employee accidents, reduce insurance premiums and avoid the new risk of incurring an HSE Fee for Intervention.



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