Food Auhtority PerformanceThe FSA have recently announced that they will be participating in a pilot scheme to audit and rate food authority performance in Wales. It is not intended that the audit process itself will change radically but is more likely that the results of the audit will be transformed into a score (the methodology for which will be drawn up in due course). There is not much time though as in April 2013 a report on the pilot will be evaluated and the approach considered for extension.

The idea behind the scheme is to provide further transparency and clarity of information to consumers. Opposers have questioned though, whether will this actually be useful for, and empower, consumers in any way. Reports in the press suggest that the scheme has been welcomed by two of the 20 food authorities who have volunteered to pilot the project. However, other food authorities and bodies such as the Welsh food advisory committee have not been supportive of the proposal. Whilst the review into official controls continues to take place and local authority funding being cut dramatically the timing of the pilot is causing concern. Other professionals have raised immediate concerns citing the potential for a loss of confidence in enforcement and potential legal challenges.

However, due to the powers invested in the FSA under the Food Standards Act, they are well within their rights to ensure that the framework agreement is being implemented effectively and need to demonstrate their own competence as the primary food authority to the European Commission. In addition, similar approaches are already undertaken by other bodies with statutory oversight such as OFSTED and the Care Quality Commission. In response, the FSA have tried to reassure food authorities though by saying that there is no desire to 'gold plate' and as long as LA’s meet the standard in the framework agreement there would be no reason why the LA would not get a top score.

The FSA have taken on additional staff to undertake the pilot in Wales but its not sure if they are able to audit all UK food authorities. Their current auditing rate, based on focused subject specific audits, represents a small proportion of local authorities. But, hypothetically speaking, if this scheme were able to be realised across the UK is it really something that should be feared? Furthermore, could this form part of the answer to the official controls review?

The FSA have indicated that, in England, there is the potential for any additional auditing to include inter-authority auditing as well as traditional FSA auditing. Those food authorities not already participating are advised to implement third party or regional inter-authority auditing partnerships; having such arangements in place will bring food professionals up to speed with the process and help demonstrate the ongoing committment to quality, consistency and transparency that the FSA are looking for.

Third party audits are currently available from Encentre. Contact us for more information.

Red Tape Monster"I don't think there's any one single way you can cut back the health and safety monster. You have got to look at the quantity of rules, and we are cutting them back. You have got to look at the way they are enforced, and we are making sure that is more reasonable" - David Cameron on the burden of health and safety regulation. Similar statements have also been made by Nick Clegg and many other politicians and there are even implications that resolving the "health and safety situation" will save the economy!

In Lord Young's 2010 report it was not so much health and safety enforcement but the compensation culture that was at fault. Soon after Lord Young, a more comprehensive review of health and safety regulation was comissioned from academic Professor Ragnar Lofstedt. This time the remit was narrowed to an examination of the scope for reducing the burden of legislation on business. His conclusion went further, stating that overall, there was no case for radically altering current health and safety legislation.

The Lofstedt report is a well researched document backed by some significant statistical evidence. It shows that work-related injuries and illness cause a great deal of expense to businesses and the economy. In the 2010/2011 financial year 4.4 million working days were lost due to workplace injuries and 22.1 million lost due to work-related ill health. Whilst it was said that the costs incurred by businesses in implementing health and safety regulation was burdensome (to the tune of £2 billion pounds per year) the overall cost of workplace accidents and ill health has been estimated to be up to a staggering £20 billion a year.

Lofstedt states that the benefits of health and safety regulation are significant but was able to point out some areas where the reglatory framework could be simplified (for example, in the explosives, mining and biocides industries). He noted that the scope for wholescale change to health and safety legislation is limited though. One of the reasons for this is due to the vast majority of legislation deriving from the EU (in the form of Directives). The most notable of these were what is referred to as the 'Six-Pack'. Since their inception statutory activity has continued to take place - to the extent that 41 of the 65 new regulations introduced between 1997 and 2009 originated in the EU. Little that could be done here then in the short-term. However, he did recommend that simplifications, or consolidations, of the Approved Codes of Practice (which support the intepretation of some European laws) are made. Those changes have recently been consulted on by the HSE.

When posing the question as to whether smaller businesses should be exempt from some health and safety legislation Lofstedt's answer was "no"; he points out that this sector is more prone to accidents than larger businesses. He did express concern, however, that lower risk businesses were subject to a greater proportion of inspections than higher risk businesses. This has already resulted in routine inspections being halted in many local authorties (despite the fact that typically such visits are completed in under an hour and occur once in every 10-15 years). Most local authorities will now only intervene where a complaint or accident has taken place.

Another one of Lofstedt's suggestions was that the HSE should direct the enforcement activities of local authorities. In doing so, he supposed that more of a distinction between health and safety and other regulatory duties would come about. (Although this does conflict with Lord Young's previous recommendation for combined inspections). In response, a new Enforcement Code will steer local authority intervention planning and put in place new reporting procedures so that activity can be monitored. This is currently being consulted upon by the HSE.

Lofstedt's report did not include an examination of how businesses and public organisations implement health and safety regulation; an area that is often associated as being the cause of many of the health and safety myths that end up in the newspapers. Neither was there an examination of how much support does (and could be) provided by inspectors in helping SMEs comply with their legislative requirements more efficiently. The results of which may present a different picture. Mind you, when you are in the business of politics having a monster to bring out and beat up every now and again can provide a useful distraction to whatever else is, or is not, happening.

Noise Nuisance AppWe have just launched our first mobile phone application! The App, a collaborative effort by Encentre and Three Spires Acoustics, provides a useful logging tool for noise complainants and comes with a number of additional resources.

Most nuisance cases will result from ongoing or intermittent noise disturbances so it is important that evidence is logged over time to demonstrate that a state of affairs exists. The Noise Nuisance App enables the sufferer to get a head start by logging the information needed to help progress the case and is a really efficient alternative to diary sheets.

Within seconds the sufferer is able to make an audio recording of the noise and enter detail about the nature of the disturbance and how it affects them. At any point the user can then email their diary entries and share the audio files directly with their local environmental health department (selecting from a complete UK & NI list). Alternatively, the sufferer can use the evidence they have gathered by taking their own action or refer to social landlords who might have a responsibility to act to prevent nuisances.

Successful cases often rely upon the quality of evidence provided and commitment from the complainants. Not everyone will have access to Smartphone technology but those who do can take advantage of the Noise Nuisance App.

The App also provides 30 minutes of video advice for complainants and a news feed featuring topical articles.

The Android version will be launched soon but, in the meantime, iPhone users can find the App here or by searching for "Noise Nuisance" on iTunes. More information, including Q&As, can be found on the Noise Nuisance Association's website.

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Encentre Ltd

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Registered in E&W No. 7503516


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