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The unkindest cuts
23 January 2013
This time last year the health and safety community had an inkling that things could change dramatically following David Cameron's December 2009 speech to the think tank Policy Exchange in which he called for â€œan end to the UK's over the top health and safety culture.â€
After months of debate and consultation Common Sense, Common Safety was published in October 2010 and as we move into 2011 we see some of the report's proposals being turned into action; not least the establishment of a Register for Health & Safety Consultants, (OSHCR) registration for which was launched at the end of January - see full details page eight.
â€œSensibleâ€ and â€œproportionateâ€ are not words the health and safety industry hears to describe its work often, but they have been used frequently among the reactions to the OSCHR so the register seems to have hit the right note. Early fears that such a qualification scheme could exacerbate the cost of health and safety for businesses, have been soothed by the decision to make it a voluntary scheme and to acknowledge that there is still a place for health & safety consultants who don't meet its criteria to advise in lower risk environments.
But despite this positive move for the industry, savage cuts to the HSE's budgets mean times are bittersweet. As Neal Stone, head of policy and public affairs at the BSC suggests in his article previewing Health & Safety '11 South (page 34), the 35% cuts that the HSE has been ordered to make mean: â€œIt is likely that HSE and Local authorities, will have to change considerably in order to cope. Not only will they have to manage with less resources - and this will inevitably mean cuts in their advisory and information role - but the introduction of charging for certain activities that form part of the enforcement function are being actively explored.â€
With the year starting with an industrial accident in Great Yarmouth in which four people died, and, while investigations are ongoing, the possibility that a lack of inspections could have been a contributing factor has been raised; there is no doubt that the money for the HSE to perform its function simply has to come from somewhere. We cannot both be the envy of Europe with our safety record and scale back on such a vast extreme, yes cuts do need to be made but when people's lives are at stake it is simply too high a price to pay.