Out-Law News 1 min. read

Local authorities to end 'unnecessary' health and safety checks in shops and offices

Tens of thousands of lower risk businesses will no longer be subject to regular health and safety inspections by local authorities.

The updated National Enforcement Code, published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), instead requires councils to concentrate their inspection activity on "higher risk activities in specified sectors", or in response to concerns about workplaces that put employees or the public at risk.

Employment Minister Mark Hoban said that the changes would result in the removal of "tens of thousands of businesses" from the inspection regime, including most shops and offices. However, he said that checks on "poor performers" would continue.

"We need health and safety that protects people where there are real risks but doesn't stifle businesses," he said. "There are too many examples of local councils imposing unnecessary burdens by inspecting low risk businesses. This new code should put a stop to this by putting common sense back into the system."

The HSE has published a list of sectors, activities and sites where local authorities will continue with "proactive inspections" (1-page / 103KB PDF) under the new regime. These include industrial retail and wholesale facilities, premises with buried metal liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) pipes, commercial catering premises and large scale public events. Low risk businesses that believe they are being "unreasonably targeted" will be able to report their concerns to an independent panel.

The HSE inspects higher risk industries such as construction, farming and offshore oil and gas.  There are no changes to the inspection regime for industries regulated by HSE.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) backed the code, which they said would enable low-risk, compliant businesses to "concentrate on growth". However, the Local Government Association (LGA) criticised the Government for the "misleading" language used in its announcement, which it said gave the impression that councils could not take action in response to the needs of local businesses or general concerns from their residents.

"Councils across the country are working hard every day to provide very real support and advice to businesses in their area and encourage economic growth," said Mehboob Khan, chair of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities Board. "It is a key priority for every single council. Environmental health teams are at the heart of this effort, working to free responsible businesses from unnecessary regulation and provide practical advice where it is needed."

"Councils will continue to provide advice where it is needed and respond to local trends or emerging risks. It is part of every council's role to maximise opportunities to support economic growth and ensure they can act on specific intelligence and the concerns of their local communities," he said.

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