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Changes afoot for Health & Safety in Scotland

23 January 2013

With the health & safety landscape in the UK changing rapidly, Neal Stone takes a look at some of the factors which are affecting Scotland in particular There has been a considerable shift in the health and safety land

With the health & safety landscape in the UK changing rapidly, Neal Stone takes a look at some of the factors which are affecting Scotland in particular

There has been a considerable shift in the health and safety landscape in Great Britain over the last twelve months. It is quite difficult not only to list all of the major developments but to absorb the enormity of the changes that are taking place or may take place to our health and safety framework in the coming months and years.

In Scotland a further layer of potential change has been added as a result of the interest of the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee in the work of HSE in Scotland. In February this year the National Audit Office (NAO) submitted a memorandum to the committee in which it set out a series of key findings concerning the management of health and safety in Scotland. The NAO explored and reported on the comparative differences in injury rates in sectors as construction between Scotland and the rest of Great Britain, the effectiveness of HSE's activities in Scotland and HSE's performance in the area of its enforcement activities.

Enquiry into health & safety in Scotland Hard on the heels of this NAO overview the Scottish Affairs Committee announced its own inquiry into health and safety in Scotland. The wide-ranging inquiry, which completed its evidence gathering in July sought, among other things, to examine the effectiveness of health and safety regulation in Scotland, the effectiveness of HSE's interventions, the effect of any reduction in HSE workforce on its work in Scotland and whether HSE's present organisational structure was the best way to manage health and safety in the context of devolution.

In addition to the mass of written evidence submitted by the regulator, health and safety bodies as the British Safety Council, by trade associations and trade unions, HSE and the Scottish TUC appeared in person before the Scottish Affairs Committee.

What was clear to the British Safety Council having surveyed its members in Scotland was that there was considerable support for the view that our current regulatory framework was working effectively. However opinions were evenly divided on the devolution of health and safety to the Scottish government and indeed on the creation of a separate HSE for Scotland. There was almost total unanimity on the need for an expert and properly resourced regulator for health and safety in Scotland and one which could meet and deal with the challenges posed by economic and geographical conditions particular to that country.

The outcome of that inquiry is awaited.

In addition there are the broader reviews and planned changes that will impact not only on Scotland but on England, Wales and inevitably Northern Ireland too. The review of health and safety conducted on behalf of the coalition government by Lord Young resulted in a series of recommendations that touched not only our health and safety regime but many linked and important areas, including, the legal costs of personal injury claims. It seems like a lifetime ago that Lord Young outlined the details of the government and his concerns over the framework of health and safety management. The eighteen months that has elapsed since his speech at the SECC in Glasgow have not seen a slowing of the pace of reform and change - quite the contrary.

Last autumn the full extent of the impact of public spending cuts on the work of both health and safety regulators, that is HSE and the local authorities, became known. We learnt that the cuts would not only impact on the number of frontline inspection staff, both HSE Inspectors and local authority EHOs, but on other services expertly provided by these bodies.

It was difficult to see how campaigns as 'Shattered lives' tackling slips, trips and falls and 'Hidden killers' on asbestos would be afforded in the future. HSE's Infoline, an expert source of advice to employers and workers in all organisations of all sizes in all sectors will cease to operate this month. HSE is currently consulting on proposals to introduce a 'fee for intervention' whereby duty holders in material breach will have to bear the cost of HSE's intervention activity.

The implications of the Löfstedt review There is more. We await the outcome of the review of health and safety legislation chaired by Professor Löfstedt which is due in the autumn with considerable interest. The British Safety Council submitted detailed evidence to the review having consulted its member organisations across Scotland, Wales and England. Our clear message to the review was that our members had great confidence in the integrity and effectiveness of our health and safety regulatory framework in playing an important part in preventing workplace injury and work-related ill health.

We await with interest too the outcome of the recent consultation on the changes to the RIDDOR reporting requirements.

The event organisers, Western Business Exhibitions, and its education partner the British Safety Council would like to thank the impressive panel of speakers drawn from HSE, business, the law and the trade unions who have agreed to participate in Health & Safety Scotland. It has all the makings of a lively and highly informative two days.

Neal Stone is director of policy and research, British Safety Council