Local authorities have jurisdiction for enforcing health and safety legislation for a significant number of types of businesses and premises, including shops, hotels, warehouses, pubs and clubs.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the leading authority for health and safety enforcement, but having two separate bodies interpreting and enforcing the same legislation can lead to a lack of consistency in approach.
The HSE has always encouraged local authorities to investigate and enforce in a way consistent with its own.
However, as part of the review of the health and safety legal landscape, the Lofstedt Report recognised a problem and recommended that the HSE be given a stronger role in directing local authority health and safety inspection and enforcement activity.
Added to this, we have the Government's Red Tape Challenge - a commitment to cut down the bureaucracy facing UK business; this includes reducing health and safety legislation as well as how this is enforced.
As a result, the Government is consulting on the National Local Authority Enforcement Code - Health and Safety at Work, England, Scotland and Wales. This provides local authorities with 'Government expectations on a risk based approach to targeting health and safety regulatory interventions.' As well as ensuring a consistent approach for businesses that fall under the jurisdiction of local authorities, it is hoped that it will encourage authorities to make the best use of their limited regulatory resource.
The key themes for the new code are:
Targeting - as part of the Red Tape Challenge, we are being told that both regulators should target high risk sectors and businesses. To that end the Government is due to publish a list of high risk sectors that are to be subject to proactive inspections.
Proportionality - businesses have always been entitled to believe that local authority enforcement officers would exercise professional judgement to assess the relative levels of health and safety risk, but the code encourages local authorities to rely on the HSE enforcement policy statement and management model.
Consistency - this is a significant obstacle to overcome. Consistency is hard to find from one local authority to the next. Discouragingly, the consultation paper gives this the least attention, other than to say that including national as well as local polices will help to bring greater certainty to business.
Transparency - as well as providing easily accessible information on their activities, local authorities must be prepared to partner business and provide information and guidance on providing safe and healthy working environments.
Accountability - just over a year ago, the Independent Regulatory Challenge Panel was set up to provide businesses with a complaints body should they feel they had received poor advice form either regulatory body. Local authorities will now be encouraged to assess the outcomes from those complaints and consider the need for improvements such as better training as a consequence. Local authorities will also be encouraged to share data with one another to benchmark their own performance.
Whether the code will bring the required changes is difficult to predict. While it seems unlikely that local authorities, in a very challenging economic environment, are likely to bring in more proactive steps to make changes, it should encourage greater thought and mean that those businesses that strive to meet their health and safety obligations will not find themselves at the whim of an inspector for minor mistakes.
The consultation ends 1 March 2013, and a copy of the document is at: