Comment: Businesses face huge health and safety costs

WITH the introduction of the Health and Safety Executive’s new Fees For Intervention (FFI) scheme taking place on Monday, businesses across Scotland must get compliant with health and safety law or face potentially hefty costs.

The FFI scheme will see fees introduced for several HSE services; from site visits and evidence-gathering, letters and reports, to working with specialist external agencies. Although the fees will vary depending on the case, businesses are unlikely to warm to the announcements that the HSE will charge them £124 an hour.

The risk of non-compliance is enormous. A workplace death could see a company face a minimum £500,000 fine, thousands more in defence costs and compensation costs, in addition to the FFI payments. Already, many are addressing issues to get their houses in order, but some could struggle to implement these changes without the help of a professional, which could in turn attract large fees.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Scotland is expected to be more affected by the scheme than other parts of the UK, because of the country’s high proportion of SMEs.

When previously the HSE would help businesses achieve compliance through advice and guidance, the introduction of fees means that each visit where a breach of health and safety law is identified offers an opportunity to raise revenue. Between May 2011 and May 2012, the HSE served more than 900 enforcement notices in Scotland. If each notice is billed at an average of £2,480 (an estimate for 20 hours’ work), then Scotland’s companies face paying more than £2.2 million annually to the HSE.

The new revenue generated by FFI could also pay for more inspections, more inspectors, and result in more enforcement notices being issued. In theory, the system could become self-perpetuating. With the reliance on government funding reduced and the number of inspectors increased, far fewer companies will escape the net. More positively, the HSE says that law-abiding firms have nothing to fear.

• Ian McKinnon is head of health and safety services at fixed-fee specialists Law At Work