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How healthy is this?

The boy stood on the burning deck, when all but he had fled

Here we go again. As if it’s not hard enough, trying to stay in business when all around you is news of yet more redundancies, administrations and high street woes, firms will now have to be extra, extra careful when it comes to health and safety practice.

When the Health and Safety Offences Act 2008 came into force on January 16, it brought with it the risk of even bigger fines and longer jail sentances for those who fail to live up to its standards.

The Act raises the maximum fine which may be imposed in the lower courts to £20,000 for most health and safety offences and it gives the courts the power to send employers to prison for a greater number of offences than previously.

Obviously, as the head of the HSE pointed out, none of this matters to companies which comply with health and safety law, for whom it poses no additional burden. And I certainly can’t think of any companies who are cavalier in their attitudes towards the issue; far from it. Indeed, where accidents (and usually subsequent fines) have occurred it has been down to simple errors, lack of judgement or not having realised there was a risk.

What this new piece of legislation means is that all businesses will have to be extra careful that they have the right health and safety policies in place and that their employees know the rules and stick to them.

However, I was sent a press release by the Forum of Private Business who believe that the HSE may well be taking advantage of the need of small and medium sized businesses for better information, guidance and support in dealing with the regulations. According to the Forum’s own research, the biggest barrier to growth amongst small businesses is the burden of health and safety regulations, right up there with employment law, fuel costs and tax.

When the outlook for business is as uncertain as it currently is, it seems a real pity that there is yet more burden on companies that just want to make a good living without having to risk fines or being banged up.

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About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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