Health and safety rules a hindrance to business

Almost a half of firms believe that health and safety regulations are a burden to comply with.

That is the finding of a survey of some 6,000 businesses conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

The administrative demands of compliance deter one in five sole traders from taking on their first employee, the BCC added.

While the overall cost of workplace safety regulation now stands at ££4.14 billion, the business group claimed.

The BCC report, entitled Health and Safety: A Risky Business?, acknowledged the importance of keeping the workplace safe but also argued that the sheer volume and ambiguity of the regulations mean that they are often misapplied, with SMEs disproportionately affected.

In its survey, nearly a half (47 per cent) of respondents identified regulation around health and safety issues as a burden on their business.

The BCC made a number of recommendations. These include: tailoring regulation to the risk-level of the workplace so that low-risk businesses are not treated in the same manner as high-risk firms; streamlining legislation to reduce costs and confusion: and reviewing the UK implementation of EU Directives to avoid duplication between British and European rules.

David Frost, director general of the BCC, commented: "Health and safety regulation in the workplace is important, but it must be made more industry-specific. The UK has a good record on health and safety and preventing accidents at work. However, employers are dealing with a multitude of regulations that do not necessarily add to the safety of workers."

Mr Frost pointed out that the Government's Red Tape Challenge lists 131 separate health and safety regulations, and argued that the number of rules causes confusion for employers, particularly amongst smaller firms.

He continued: "Good health and safety legislation is crucial in high-risk environments and must protect employees from genuinely dangerous hazards in the workplace. But time and time again, we hear of unnecessary and unreasonable examples of health and safety. For example, home workers are treated in the same way as those working onsite, with the employer forced to conduct ever-more elaborate and costly assessments of the employee's home environment."

Where regulation is irrelevant or misapplied, the BCC wants the Government to consolidate and simplify.

"Only a straightforward and more proportionate system of health and safety regulation will make it easier for employers to comply, and allow them to focus on growing their businesses and driving employment," Mr Frost concluded.