Proposed regulations that could force small businesses to pay for their own health and safety inspections have been criticised by the Forum of Private Business (FPB).
The new 'Fee for Intervention' (FFI), due to come into effect from 1 October 2012, will allow the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to recover its costs for carrying out inspections from businesses found to be in breach of health and safety law.
The FPB has called the proposals 'unfair', particularly for smaller businesses, with concerns that the practice could lead to a 'heavy-handed' and 'inconsistent' approach by HSE inspectors in their drive to recover money.
Businesses deemed to be in breach will be forced to pay for the inspector's hourly rates - the proposed rate for 2012/13 will be £124 an hour - from the initial inspection, regardless of when the breach is detected. The forum's chief executive, Phil Orford, said:
"Businesses which deliberately flout health and safety rules should be brought to task but this is not how the vast majority operate."
"Our members want help, guidance and support, not ever more threats of financial penalties."
An FPB member survey found that only three per cent felt businesses should pay the full FFI charge, with 62 per cent saying costs should be scaled according to business size and nine in ten saying the seriousness of breach should dictate the level of costs.
Last year, it found the total annual cost of enforcing health and safety for small employers amounted to £3.8 billion. Business owners or key senior managers also spend an average of 40 hours each month on health and safety administration - or pay for a third party to do it.
The FPB acknowledged that the benefits of good health and safety practices usually give businesses a competitive advantage in their local area, particularly amongst caters, motor garages and manufactures.
However, it felt that HSE should be given authority over local enforcement activity in order to improve consistency.
Phil Orford also added: "We want every government department to understand the significant financial demands on business at present, in this case from consultants and the HSE itself. There needs to be greater understanding shown by enforcement officers that firms face a number of inspections from multiple agencies across all aspects of their business."
The FFI had originally been planned for implementation in April this year. A House of Lords committee is currently reviewing the plans.
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