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Budget 2012

The recently announced Budget largely consolidates previous announcements, particularly those surrounding the Government’s dangerous Common Sense, Common Safety report. They have now announced specific plans to reduce the amount of so called ‘red-tape’ and make far reaching changes to our current health and safety legislation and regulation.

Health & Safety Executive The Chancellor announced that the Health and Safety Executive will take control of all Local Authority Health and Safety Inspections and enforcement activity. The Government says that this is aimed to ensure consistency in Health and Safety enforcement, and the code based on the existing powers will be introduced in April 2012.

The current system for reporting and investigating health and safety breaches is flawed. The HSE are understaffed, under-resourced and therefore not effective. They do not carry out enough inspections and fail to carry out unannounced inspections. Employees are of course in the best place to know when employers are cutting corners and breaching health and safety. Such action should be reported, investigated and enforcement actioned before anyone is injured. It is of course however difficult for the employees to put their heads above the parapet. Thompsons, with our Union colleagues, are therefore campaigning for the introduction of an anonymous health and safety breach reporting hotline whereby the HSE are bound to investigate (unannounced) reports and take appropriate enforcement action. This is one avenue we consider important in the prevention of the unacceptable levels of ongoing assaults within workplaces and will become even more important following the Government’s proposed changes.

RIDDOR Another perilous move taken by the Government is to loosen reporting requirements of accidents. Employers now no longer have to report to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) injuries which keep workers off normal duties for seven or fewer days. The Government says that this is part of their move to “restore common sense to health and safety law”. This will meant a fall of around 30 per cent in the number of incidents that must be reported by law - an average of around 30,000 fewer reports a year. Furthermore, employers will also be given a longer period in which to report, increasing from 10 to15 days from the time of the incident. We see your members being forced to return to work earlier than they ought to following accidents as they either cannot afford to be off work or their absence causes a detrimental effect to their absence record and they then face disciplinary action; the latter is more commonly encountered by us when dealing with Unison members. With a combination of these early returns to work and the changes in RIDDOR reporting, the HSE and public generally will be given inaccurate safety records and this will no doubt lead to complacency amongst employers.

The caveat the Government put forward on this point is that employers and others with responsibilities under RIDDOR must still keep a record of all over three day injuries, for example through an accident book, but will only have to report to the HSE those incidents resulting in more than seven days off work. This is simply not good enough. All accidents should already be reported internally within any organisation whether a person has been absent or not. The Government has glossed over the facts to spin this issue in their favour.

Removal of strict liability This is further disastrous news not only for your members but for anyone wishing to feel safe whilst at work. In the 2012 Budget, the Government has pledged to "scrap or remove" 84% of health and safety legislation. New legislation will be introduced in 2012, meaning that employers can no longer be in breach of strict liability duties, so long as they have done everything reasonably practicable and foreseeable to protect their employees. Therefore, even if we can prove they were at fault, unless there is evidence that they ought to have know of the negligence at the time of the accident, the case will not be successful. We will therefore become more reliant on witness evidence in pursing cases which can often be difficult, particularly when employers put pressure on employees not to assist injured people. We will of course keep a watchful eye on developments. We are keen to see just how the Government will go about implementing these changes as current regulations derives from EU law.

Prosecution by HSE The Health and Safety Executive will now aim to start all prosecutions within three years of an accident. This is probably the only positive point to note although measures still do not go far enough.

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