Health and safety rules 'a burden for businesses'

THE British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) today called on the coalition government to take action to deal with the burden of health and safety legislation it claims is stifling business growth.

A survey of thousands of members found that almost half of businesses believe the current level of regulation - which the organisation dubs "yellow tape" - is a drain on resources and a fifth of sole traders say it prevents them taking on their first employee.

In its report - Health and Safety: a risky business? - the BCC argues that regulation should be tailored to the risk-level of the workplace rather than all firms being treated the same.

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David Frost, BCC director general, said: "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."

Frost cited home workers being treated in the same way as those working on-site with the employer forced to conduct "ever-more elaborate and costly assessments" of the employee's home environment.

The BCC says the legislation costs 4.1 billion and has called for it to be streamlined and simplified.

It points out that the UK government's own "Red Tape Challenge" listed 131 separate health and safety regulations.

"The sheer number of laws causes uncertainty and means health and safety is in danger of being a tick-box exercise," added Frost.

The BCC is also urging a review of the adoption of EU directives in the UK.

"UK legislation has taken already stringent directives further to include the self-employed and there are examples of duplication between UK and EU rules that bring unnecessary costs," said Frost.

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Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said it was clear from speaking to members in Scotland that the "burden has become out of proportion to the nature of trade".

"Nobody would argue that businesses should be unregulated but regulation must be proportionate to risk," she said.

"Proportionality is one of the five principles of good regulation and where this has broken down, it is up to government to put things right."

The BCC said that there had been little done to implement the proposals of Lord Young's report last year into health and safety legislation. In the report he put forward a series of proposals for improving the perception of health and safety to ensure it is taken seriously while minimising the burden on small business.

He also urged a clampdown on the advertising of "no win no fee" legal services aimed at victims of work accidents.