Small firms 'confused' over health and safety regulations

The confusion and uncertainty that many smaller businesses experience when it comes to complying with health and safety rules could be costing millions each year.

That was the conclusion of a report published by government agency, the Risk and Regulatory Advisory Council (RRAC).

The report concluded that many smaller firms are unsure of their legal health and safety responsibilities.

It pointed the finger of blame at a lack of clarity and the often contradictory messages that small organisations receive on the subject from the government, insurers and the media.

Also coming in for criticism were ‘risk-mongers’ such as unscrupulous health and safety consultants who, the RRAC argued, exploit small business worries in order to make money.

While small organisations themselves often suffer a lack of confidence in understanding and managing risks.

Sarah Veale of the Risk and Regulation Advisory Council said: “Small organisations can get confused – they get too many mixed messages about health and safety. These come from insurers, from consultants, from the media, from lawyers and from the government.

“If small organisations don’t understand what they need to do, they may do too much – wasting money – or too little – failing to protect their employees and the public.”

Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Health and Safety Executive, commented: “Small businesses are the backbone of the British economy, and HSE wants to play its part in helping to reduce the confusion that the Risk and Regulation Advisory Council has identified.

“We already have a huge amount of work underway to improve advice available to employers – making our official publications free to download, debunking misleading myths, and exploring ways of ensuring that advice is available from accredited, competent sources. We have also begun dialogue with insurers.”

Phil Orford, the chief executive of the Forum of Private Business (FPB), said: “While we would argue that much of the confusion felt by smaller businesses in connection with health and safety law is brought about by the legislation itself, we do accept that a certain amount of scaremongering and exaggeration goes on.”