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A new National Local Authority Enforcement Code governing health and safety enforcers is due to be launched soon. The Code replaces the existing section 18 standard by outlining a risk based approach that health and safety enforcing authorities will need to adopt and provides the HSE with a stronger role in directing enforement activity.

In order to "reduce fears and costs for businesses" (Vince Cable), it is intended that proactive health and safety activities will be stopped, almost completely, through the Code. It has been suggested that this will enable time to be freed up in the private sector which will, in turn, help boost jobs and the economy.

Unannounced proactive inspections will be limited to a specific list of high risk activities published by the HSE. Whilst local authorities will still be able to educate and carry out other planned interventions these will need to be targetted to higher risk activities, in relation to matters of evident concern or those with a poor record. As well as some proactive work authorities will also continue reacting to complaints, accidents and incidents.

After Lofstedt established that health and safety legislation is fit for purpose the only other way it seems that administators were able to 'deregulate' would be to ensure that the legislation is not enforced. Most legislation provides an incentive to compliance through the threat of enforcement (call it 'fear' if you like). However, whilst the risk of an accident may be slim, the likelyhood of an inspection will now be almost nonexistent. Furthermore, there is a danger that exisiting premises records will quickly become out of date and any new premises will remain 'unregistered' (and therefore unchecked). It follows that, other than an educated guess as to the activity taking place, the only way of determining whether a workplace presents a high risk or not may be once the accident or ill health has been reported.

Stopping routine interventions is a brave move that, some say, will in time lead to a rise of accidents and ill health. However, an anarchic health and safety culture need not be an inevtiability. Despite the proposed changes there will still be an obligation on enforcing authorities to ensure that they implement effective enforcement plans. Those more innovative and informed of authorities, unburdened by the tie of routine inspections, may even view this as an opportunity to expand their range of 'intervention' activity.

Occupational health and safety enforcement and education activity will now be largely dependent upon enlightened managers who are motivated to research, identify and review local priorities. This won't come as much of a change to those local authorities already implementing 'needs based' or 'outcome related' strategies; for others, a more evidence based approach to service planning will need to be adopted in order to 'fill the void'. Like all core environmental health or regulatory functions The future of occupational health and safety services at local level lies very much in the hands of public service managers.

The changes are expected to be implemented from April 2013 but the consultation on the new Code is open until the 1st of March 2013 (see HSE website).

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Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Royal Society for Public Health

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