Shifting the cost of health and safety regulation – consultation looms

15 Jun

The government in its plans for further health and safety reform set out in Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone made clear that it believed “that it is reasonable that businesses that are found to be in serious breach of health and safety law – rather than the taxpayer – should bear the related costs incurred by the regulator in helping them put things right.”  The government clearly set out the rationale it believed justified this proposal to enable HSE to extend its power to charge to recover costs way beyond ‘permissioning’ regimes as nuclear, offshore and onshore major hazards and approvals of new substances.

Our members will, when the proposals become law, have to pay a ‘fee for intervention’ to cover HSE’s costs for the work it undertakes to address non-compliance up until the point where compliance is achieved. That fee could be considerable. Although we must await the publication by HSE of the consultation document in order to get a real sense of the scale and cost of what is being proposed it is already clear from what has been made public that these changes could impact significantly, for example, on the relationship between the regulator and the duty holder.  ‘Fee for intervention’ is very different from the ‘polluter pays’ principle that underlies charging for the permissioning regimes.

Already concerns have been raised about the wisdom and equity of charging non-compliant duty holders – in effect imposing an administrative sanction for a breach without having to go through the due process of law.  The argument in support of civil administrative penalties for health and safety breaches is bound to raise its head once again. This new development is bound too to raise questions about HSE efficiency and effectiveness in carrying out its enforcement role.  Transparency and proportionality will be key. The projected income that will be generated from ‘fee for intervention’ has no doubt already been factored into HSE’s budget for 2012/13 and forward years. It is essential then that the British Safety Council effectively represents the views of our members on this radical proposal.  This we will be doing shortly.



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