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*Easy* to solve SME challenges – Moderation of Health and Safety Regulation

by Eamonn McMahon


The blabber, denials and tail wagging.. If and only if, you have exhausted peeling all paint, off all walls, please read the latest ‘HealthandSafetyAtWork.com’ article. Depressing stuff. The brown shoe-wearing civil servant brigade, no doubt encouraged on by herds of God enlightened ‘consultants’ keep on marching. Dedicated to smothering every British business in unnecessary and costly cotton wool these cretans show no sign of abating. Health and safety to the nth degree.

With some statistic-twisting devilry, the article brushes aside many results that prove inconvenient for the author. Read between their headlines and you will see that almost half, 42%, of SMEs surveyed, identify that complying with regulations is a problem. Worryingly, 70% of UK SME aren’t even aware of changes to regulations around reporting of injuries at the workplace.

Because of the successive tightening of the granny belt, the weight of Health and Safety compliance has fallen disproportionally on the shoulders of the small and medium sized businesses.

A survey commissioned by the government some years ago shows that the average cost of compliance for a large firm was £37 per employee. The corresponding figure for an SME was almost 10 times larger at £341 per employee.

To put this figure in context it is broadly equivalent to the average yearly spend on broadband and telecommunications for a typical small businesses

(Source: AXA report on SME wasted spending in 2013)

Leaving aside the financial burden, one would nearly question their own sanity on hearing some of the most extreme examples of health and safety obsession. There are instances of removal companies having to request old age pensioners to move heavy furniture to an open space for fear of being sued by a disgruntled employee suffering from a future bad back. There is the recent example of a warehouse business(reported on telegraph.co.uk) spending more on health and safety software in a year than its annual budget for stock management/logistics software.

We all know the story of the lady who was awarded three million because she spilt hot coffee on her lap. The argument of the ladies lawyer: the warning on the cup was not large enough and the coffee about 5 -10 degrees hotter than it should be. Oh bless..  McDonalds can absorb that madness as easily as their fries soak oil but what about the small cafe or independent restaurant? Also,

The secondary effect is that overly zealous courts and ill thought out health and safety legislation lead to higher insurance premium for SME business across the UK and Ireland.

Net net we all suffer.

The British Safety Council proclaims that “no one should be injured or made ill at work” and this must be “made a reality”. That’s it. An absolute. Not a declared intention to reduce risk but a statement that no risk whatsoever is acceptable. So in a world where we are personally content to accept some degree of risk in at home, during sport, while driving our kids to school, even flying, whatever!,

The British Safety Council has determined there can be absolutely no risk to anybody, ever, in a work place.

Right. Ehm – Shall we all just work from bed to avoid the risk of slipping on the foot path then?

Meanwhile the health and safety industry proudly proclaims strong growth in a enar £800 million per annum market.

The cost to business of complying with government regulation, void of any sense of measured constraint, balance or commercial realism is increasing at a “whopping 6% per year” but hey, aren’t the consultants delighted!?

Whatever happened to responsibility and common sense..? Of course employers have an obligation to reduce risks for their employees but every aspect of life will always contain some element of risk. Join the army and you may get shot; work in a kitchen and you might end up with burn. Politicians have a bad habit of eyeing problems and seeking solutions in black and white. What’s next.. ?  Will bars require us to certify the health of our liver before serving us?  Music venues confined to soft melodic music with heavy metal, techno and high pitched Chinese Opera singers sent to the skip.

While Jeremy Clarkson clearly went too far when he decried health and safety as “the cancer of any civilised society” it is certainly a considerable and increasing cost weighing down on small businesses across the UK. These businesses are the backbone of the economy and the future employers of our graduates in a tech heavy world. We ought to fight health and safety obsession as we do obesity – pull the kids away from their silly immersive games!