The FSA are currently consulting on plans to replace Regulation (EC) 882 of 2004 on official controls for food law. The consultation sets out amendments that the European Commission consider will improve the effectiveness and consistency of official controls accross the EU. The FSA are currently looking for views. The full consultation can be found on their website.
There are a number of proposed changes. Here's a small selection:
Charges for official controls will be levied on food businesses. This will exclude non-offical activities but may require authorities to charge for inspections, registration, approval and enforcement activity accross the board; albeit to the exclusion of micro businesses. The intention is that fees are calculated so as to enable authorities to fully recover service costs.
It will be up to individual member states as to what level the fees are established and collected. However, it is intended rates will be variable in recognition of good performance.
"Micro" businesses would include businesses employing fewer than 10 person that do not exceed a turnover of EUR 2 million. The EC estimate that up to half of all operators could fall into the "micro" category.
National enforcement measures will also be addressed through the legislation. Following the example set by environmental regulation a new provision will set out to ensure that financial penalties offset the economic advantage sought in commission of a violation. There will also be requirements placed on food authorities to take action to investigate suspicions of non-compliance.
Authorities will have to regularly submit information on official controls, non-compliances and enforcement action.
They will be allowed to publish greater detail of intervention outcomes (not just rating schemes). This may include reports. However, rating schemes must be based on objective criteria.
Data will need to be exchanged at European level through the establishment of a database to manage offical controls. This may involve changes to IT systems at local level.
Encentre has recently been involved in the development of new innovations in service delivery through information technology. The team are keen to emphasize the benefits of using exisitng forms of technology in regulatory services.
"Its not until you start experimenting with technology that you start to recognise it's potential worth for environmental health teams. It doesn't replace officers on the ground but can help steer practitioners away from ritualistic behaviour and enable service providers to become more focused on goals and risk (in other words, help us achieve what we are all here for)". As well as supporting Hampton principles, utilising IT authorities can:
Here are some examples of our recent applications:
ONLINE SERVICES & COMMUNICATION
There are still some core areas where most local authorities are able to enhance service quality, for example, just by improving the use of their own websites and use of electronic communication. Delivering better information on the web, linked into automated replies and in email corresponence will, for many, provide simple and low-cost efficiencies. Performing some simple analysis of the interaction that takes place and the effectiveness of your service allows you to adapt and initiate improvements. Being able to identify patterns in the problems experienced will steer decisions as to where your online effort goes.
APP AND MOBILE TECHNOLOGY
App's have to be able to deliver efficiencies, improvements to servcie delivery or provide significant benefits to customers. We recently designed and produced the Noise Nuisance mobile application which can be used and promoted by any local authority in Britain. The Noise Nuisance App provides key information to complainants, convenient logging of noise events and enables officers to prioritise cases.
Encentre has also started to implement flexible and accessible solutions that will help transform intervention based strategies. One of the new mobile resources we have developed enables food hygiene inspections and paperwork to be completed and delivered fully on-site without the need for paper or an office. There are also opportunities available to integrate mobile solutions with existing IT systems. It has never been more important for Regulatory Servies to capitalise on the benefits that mobile technology offers.
One of the disciplines that local authorities sometimes struggle with is in the collection of reliable data. Data is increasingly required to justify and inform intervention strategies. For many the problem has been a cyclical one; without sufficent information the authority are unable to back-up their intervention strategy; nor do they have the ability to measure the effectiveness of their outputs. Systems we are currently developing will allow data to be collected in order to target strategies for the reduction of risk. Intelligence-led servcies allows service managers to implement evidence based intervention and education strategies.
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).