Small Businesses Overspend on Health and Safety

Improving Outcomes For Health And Safety Report

Small businesses spend six times as much per employee as bigger businesses on health and safety compliance, according to a report from the Better Regulation Executive (BRE).

Improving Outcomes For Health And Safety Report

The report, Improving Outcomes from Health and Safety (510k PDF), claims that if the UK’s small firms adopted better procedures for dealing with health and safety obligations, they could save around £150 million a year.

Presently, the report says, the average small business spends 20 hours a year on administration to comply with health and safety laws – but this could be cut by five hours. Many firms are also paying external consultants for work they could carry out more cheaply and effectively in house.

BRE chairman William Sargent said the vast majority of small businesses are low risk, but fret over health and safety guidance and over–compensate when complying with regulations.

“With better support and advice they’ll save time because they’ll know what to do and they’ll do it well and quickly,” he said. “People worry too much about health and safety being complicated. One way we can also take away the worry is by improving the perception of it so it won’t seem to be this horrid set of laws. This should also improve compliance.”

In particular, the report recommends:

  • better web-based and telephone advice and information
  • better guidance about when to bring in outside consultants
  • a new assurance scheme so small businesses have one process to deal with health and safety, fire, and food safety regulations
  • efforts to improve the perception of health and safety laws.

Health & Safety Executive (HSE) spokesman Mark Wheeler described the recommendations as “interesting”.

“Some are already being tackled and some will take longer to be addressed,” he said. “In particular, the HSE was striving to make more information free to small businesses”.

It was also considering revising its good management guidance to clarify when people needed to take external advice.

“There are very often circumstances in which people don’t realise that the answers are under their own noses,” he said. “It can be tempting sometimes for people to say they need to get an expert in, but they already have a lot of expertise in their own staff.”

The TUC’s head of health and safety, Hugh Robertson, questioned the report’s conclusions. Claiming that the problem with health and safety compliance was not too much red tape but a lack of enforcement, he pointed out that 20 hours a year equates to three-and-a-half minutes a day.

“This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a burden on business given the number of workers who are injured or made ill at work,” he said.

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