UK Health and Safety Regulations - an overview

The way that UK Health and Safety law is applied, has been the subject of much controversy over the past decade. It was felt that health and safety advice was being inappropriately applied, by over zealous health and safety practitioners.

Drop in public respect for Health and safety regulations

As a consequence of this, health and safety itself began to acquire a reputation as a bureaucratic, and oppressive body of law that stopped people carrying out legitimate activities. Examples such as village fetes being cancelled on health and safety grounds, gave rise to a certain contempt for “elf and safety” as the popular press dubbed it.

As a result of public disquiet about the growth of a “compensation culture” and complaints from businesses, in 2010, the Coalition government asked Professor Ragnar Lofstedt, the Director of the King’s Centre for Risk Management, to report on possible reforms. The recommendations in his report were fully accepted by the government.

Substantial reforms to the regulations

The government decided to halve the number of health and safety regulations, reduce the amount of form-filling required of businesses, and act against some of the worst excesses. So the 72 pages of health and safety guidance for school trips for example, were reduced to eight. Members of the public were assured they wouldn’t fall foul of health and safety legislation if they cleared snow from outside their house and someone subsequently fell over. Voluntary organisations, village and community halls were given simplified checklists to use.

Risk used as the yardstick

There were also steps to improve the quality of health and safety advisers by setting up a register of qualified consultants. A challenge board was established to allow businesses to question advice from health and safety inspectors if it was felt to be disproportionate to the risk.

Major change to construction regulations in 2015

The overarching law that regulates health and safety is still the Health and Safety at Work Act, passed in 1974. However, the government reviews health and safety regulations regularly and there are therefore a number of changes since the reforms were implemented.

In 2015, a major legislative change in the form of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations came in. These are known as the CDM regs.

These set out specific roles and responsibilities for clients, contractors and workers involved in construction projects and replace the former role of CDM Co-ordinator on a project, with the role of Principal Designer.

Sentencing for health and safety offences changes

In October 2016, sentencing changed significantly. Levels of harm and the turnover of the offender are now assessed, and this may result in much larger fines for corporations found guilty of offences.

Looking ahead

The “health” aspect of the Health and Safety Executive’s work has often taken a back seat, but the HSE is becoming far more focused on this. With older workers at work due to pension changes, health is clearly going to be a major concern for employers.