The warning comes in a new report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that focuses on the impact of the rules on small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the safety and health system more widely.
The regulatory body defines blue tape as “obligations imposed not by government regulation, but by businesses or business intermediary organisations”.
The report says the rules cause confusion, fear and administrative burden and in some cases are “disproportionate or lead to ineffective risk control and ownership”.
More than 99% of UK businesses are SMEs, each with fewer than 250 employees. Together, they account for 60% of private sector jobs, according to the Federation of Small Businesses.
Their experiences of safety and health should be positive, allowing dutyholders to make good risk management and reasonable, proportionate safety and health integral parts of the business.
- the scale of the issue
- how and where “rules” were manifesting in “the system”
- the key systemic drivers behind the burdens this can create
- their impact on business, and on perceptions of safety and health burdens
- impacts on the health and safety system as a whole.
HSE researchers wanted to know what negative effects the regulatory burdens that businesses place on one another in the name of health and safety have on perceptions at work.
Their report, published in June, draws on extensive in-house HSE research, together with a survey of 2,000 SMEs, more than 70 reviews of guidance, reports and articles from business bodies, including IOSH, government, the trade press and academia. Businesses, trade associations, standards and professional bodies, consultants, accreditation and auditing bodies, insurers, and some trades unions and legal communities were also engaged.
The report found that the safety and health burden “isn’t a problem for the majority of businesses (70%), and that most feel that the policies and procedures they have to have in place are sensible and proportionate relative to the risks within their business”.
However, almost 40% reported that those policies and procedures were “excessive and disproportionate” and 35% said there was “no real link between what they have to do for health and safety and actually keeping employees safe”.
More than one-third said taking responsibility for safety and health felt like it entailed excessive paperwork, with no obvious benefit. The authors say a perception like this “skews perception of ‘regulatory’ burdens”.
The report states: “More often than not, rules tend to be blurred with ‘red tape’, and reported as such. Government is then charged with driving improvements, even when something other than regulation has been identified as the source of the problem.”
The findings provide valuable insight for safety and health professionals and others who engage with business.
IOSH head of policy and public affairs Richard Jones said: “IOSH has repeatedly called for more focus on proportionate action, good advice and support for upskilling SMEs.
“This report helps everyone appreciate the importance of these fundamentals when they see how business rules imposed by insurers, client requirements, civil law and third-party advisers – including some consultants – can impact on health and safety perceptions of smaller firms.
“We’re keen to continue to collaborate with the HSE and others in our work with smaller businesses and help to create a more risk-intelligent society.”