Businesses Continue to Perceive Health and Safety Compliance as an Obstacle

The National Audit Office (NAO) and the Local Better Regulation Office (LBRO) recently commissioned a large-scale survey of British businesses. The National Audit Office survey questioned 1000 businesses across the UK, while the Local Better Regulation Office spoke to 1294 businesses in England and Wales. The purpose of the survey was to assess how businesses experience government regulation. This is in the context of recent government programmes to “cut red tape” and make changes to regulatory laws. Therefore the survey, in part, was to assess the effectiveness and impact of these goals.

Overall, the number of businesses that felt that regulation was an obstacle to their operation had reduced when compared with a similar survey three years ago. Half of the businesses in the survey did, however, feel that there is too much regulation while a third reported that they had to spend more time making sure that they comply with government regulations. More small and medium-sized businesses than large ones reported that the time burden involved was a considerable obstacle.

Health and Safety regulation was one of the areas covered by both the NAO and the LBRO surveys. These regulations were more likely to be considered by the businesses surveyed to be a considerable time burden than the other laws and regulations were. One particular aspect of Health and Safety law which businesses reported as problematic was the difficulty in identifying which Health and Safety regulations are applicable to their own companies. In addition, the details of the steps which have to be taken by a business to comply with particular Health and Safety regulations were said to be difficult to find. Other aspects of complying with Health and Safety law which businesses identified as troublesome in the survey were the paperwork involved and the records which have to be maintained.

There was a significant difference between the experiences and concerns of businesses which are regulated directly by the Health and Safety Executive and those which are regulated by their own local authority. Those regulated by the Health and Safety Executive were much less likely to agree that the regulation is "fair and proportionate" than those regulated by their local council.

Whereas the survey results for all laws and regulations reported an average of 41% agreement that the laws were "fair and proportionate", this dropped dramatically to 31% for HSE-regulated businesses when they were asked specifically about Health and Safety Law. Local authority-regulated businesses, on the other hand, had a better than average opinion of Health and Safety Law, with a jump to 46% of those surveyed considering it to be fair and proportionate.

In response to questions about overall regulation, half of all the businesses surveyed did report that there is too much regulation overall. However, the problems with complying with Health and Safety Law in particular were reported in much higher numbers. This suggests that the efforts to cut red tape, and to make it easier to abide by government regulations, have not yet filtered down to reduce the burden in the day-to-day running of companies, especially for small- and medium-sized businesses.

You can view the results and summary of the Business Perceptions Survey 2012 on the National Audit Office website.

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