The real meaning of safety in numbers

14th May 2004 at 01:00
Radical proposals to cut the burden of health and safety regulations by having a single validation system are spelled out in the bureaucracy-busting report.

The report details a nightmare of regulations for colleges trying to place students on work experience and for employers who say they face up to eight health and safety assessments every year if they take trainees.

Colleges and training providers have to check that employers provide "a safe, healthy and supportive" environment.

"However, every organisation has its own interpretation of what a safe, healthy and supportive environment is," says he report. More than 3,000 interpretations and systems exist.

"Further, there is no competency standard applied to those who carry out the assessment or vetting. This naturally causes confusion (and annoyance) to employers on the receiving end of health and safety assessments.

"Of a total of seven million funded learners, approximately three million undertake some work-related learning or work experience with an employer other than the funded provider. This means that more than two million health and safety assessments are carried out a year on around one million employers."

In a survey of 1,000 employers offering work experience placements, 640 were also involved with work-based training such as Modern Apprenticeships.

The cost of each assessment was pound;17 to pound;80, with an average of pound;30 - a huge cost in cash and lost production time.

A solution proposed in the report is to create a minimum set of regulations based on current best practice, in consultation with the Health and Safety Executive and Department for Education and Skills.

It also suggests a national standard for those who assess employers and work places.

Benefits would quickly follow, says the task force. Insurance companies could cut premiums, HSE could take a "holiday" from routine inspections, big companies could help screen small companies, an award or certificate scheme could be created as well as a database of best practice.

The task force has already called for a single inspectorate for the sector.

The aim, said Sir George Sweeney, chair of the task force, is "to promote better but less regulation".

"There is an old craft adage - 'measure twice and cut once.' This is sound advice.

"Unfortunately, in many areas of public life, we have misapplied the principle and find ourselves experiencing multiple measurements by different parties, at significant cost and to no-one's obvious benefit."

The second task force report, Trust in the Future, drew attention to the need to align all the different audits and cut the inspection burden.

Much had been done since to address this issue, he said. But there was still a need to build on the general principles of harmonisation and rationalisation.

Ian Nash

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