Small businesses 'shouldn't pay for health and safety inspections'

Published:  30 July, 2012

Health & Safety Executive (HSE) plans to force small businesses to pay for their own health and safety inspections have been criticised by the Forum of Private Business (FPB).

Under the ‘Fee for Intervention’ proposals, set to come into force October 2012, firms deemed to be in ‘material breach’ of health and safety regulations by the HSE would be forced to pay inspectors’ hourly rates from the moment the inspection begins – regardless of when a breach is detected.

Forum members are concerned this would be unfair, and that the HSE’s drive to recover costs could lead to a heavy-handed approach and inconsistency from individual inspectors over what constitutes a breach in the first place.

“Businesses which deliberately flout health and safety rules should be brought to task but this is not how the vast majority operate - clearly it is not in their best interests to allow lax health and safety procedures to exist,” said the Forum’s chief executive, Phil Orford. "Our members want help, guidance and support, not ever more threats of financial penalties.

“The delicate balance of trust between small business and regulators, which has shown tentative signs of improving recently, could be further complicated by what subjectively constitutes a ‘material breach’ according to different inspectors, creating in all likelihood a postcode lottery for businesses concerning health and safety compliance and enforcement.

“We want every government department to understand the significant financial demands on business at present, in this case from consultants and the HSE itself. There needs to be greater understanding shown by enforcement officers that firms face a number of inspections from multiple agencies across all aspects of their business.”

In May 2012, just 3% of the Forum’s health and safety panel members argued that businesses should pay the full cost of the Fee for Intervention operation. A total of 62% felt that recovery costs should be scaled according to the size of a business and more than 90% that either the size of the business or the seriousness of the breach should have an impact on the level of costs.

Many believed the HSE should issue more free advice leaflets, with 89% of FPB members surveyed saying they found the Forum's Health & Safety Guide to be a useful tool.

Last year, the FPB's ‘cost of compliance’ survey found that administering health and safety leaves the UK’s smaller employers with a combined annual bill of £3.8 billion.