It can be daunting to keep pace with the developments impacting health and safety legislation, especially for small business owners. But now is the time to be prepared as fines imposed for health and safety and other regulatory cases are progressively increasing.
As with any business risk, prompt and pragmatic action now could save you a headache down the road. Here are a few of the latest developments that might impact your business:
Fee For Intervention
Under the Fee for Intervention scheme (FFI) – introduced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in October 2012 – the HSE is able to recover investigation costs from organisations found to be in material breach of health and safety law. Basically this means your business could be charged at a rate of £124/hour if the HSE inspector believes there has been a serious enough breach of health and safety law.
So what do you, as a business owner, need to be aware of?
- It is important you do not simply pay these costs in order to prevent “rocking the boat” or aggravating the ongoing investigation. Closely review any invoice/s received under the FFI scheme, looking for details like a breakdown of the investigation work and how long the HSE have spent carrying out each task.
- Do not think it is easier to simply pay an invoice on the basis that it is not big enough to warrant the time and expense to dispute it.
- Remember that payment of fees could be considered by the HSE as evidence of a company’s admission for a material breach of health and safety law.
The FFI scheme is gathering pace and it has been estimated that between a quarter and a third of inspections have established a material breach. Figures suggest that the revenue generated for the HSE was more than £5.5 million in the first year of the scheme.
Since 1 August 2013, personal injury claims have been dealt with through a new portal system, designed to speed up the process. Whilst it is likely to be your legal advisors who deal directly with your claims, you should consider making changes to your business practices to avoid missing the portal deadlines (30-40 days from the accident). For example, having simple documents, such as the accident book entry/first aider report, ready to go promptly following an incident, could save many thousands of pounds in legal costs.
Abolition of civil liability for breaches of H&S law
In some welcome good news for SMEs, the government has abolished civil liability for breach of health and safety regulations. This means that employers will now only be held liable for accidents where they are at fault – allowing SMEs to devote resources to maintaining health and safety standards.
In addition, claimants are no longer able to avail themselves of no-win no-fee cases and then pass on the extra cost to the defending companies. Any “success fee” they promise their lawyers must now come out of their own pocket.
Risk assess for safe working
Recent case law has continued to emphasise the importance of risk assessments if defendants are to successfully defend themselves against personal injury claims. Risk assessments can sound daunting, but in reality they do not require complex paperwork. Simply identifying sensible measures to control risks, and putting in place measures to mitigate them is adequate. It is impossible to completely eliminate risk from the workplace, and businesses are not expected to do so. A pragmatic and common-sense approach is often enough.
Helen Grimberg is a partner in the safety, health and environment team at BLM. http://www.blm-law.com/
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