Liz Cameron: More proportion needed in use of health and safety rules

Businesses often complain about red tape and over-regulation, and the general public might be forgiven for believing that we would be happier if were left to go about our business in a completely unregulated manner.

That would be a misconception, as good regulation can actually make it easier and more profitable to do business than no regulation.

One area where it is essential that we get regulation right is in the field of health and safety. This is a delicate area, with rules essential to the preservation of human life often counterbalanced by the kind of pedantic regulation of business that often creates resentment and ridicule among the business community.

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Figures show that there are 131 pieces of legislation affecting business in the field of health and safety. In total, the cost of regulation on UK businesses, using the government's own figures, now stands at more than 4 billion. If we are to encourage our businesses to grow and to create new employment opportunities then we must look towards minimising the impact of unnecessary regulation.

The key issue, and one which is not limited to health and safety, is that the application of regulation should always be appropriate to the business in question. Common sense must be applied when businesses are asked to apply the same health and safety rules to employees working from home as apply to those working on-site.

The challenge to government is to ensure a more proportionate approach to this area of regulation that recognises the differences between businesses and the relative risks involved. Importantly this recognition must also be shared by enforcement and inspection bodies, where better performing businesses should attract a lighter touch.

Scottish business has a good recent record of health and safety in the workplace. Better regulation could ensure that this is maintained while encouraging growth.

• Liz Cameron is chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce