Businesses to pay for their own failed health and safety inspections

Under the Government's new fee for intervention (FFI) rules, businesses that are found in 'material breach of health and safety laws will have to pay the Health and Safety Executive's HSE's cost of inspections, investigations and enforcement action at a rate of £124 an hour.

The law comes as the Government aims to shift HSE costs away from the public purse and onto businesses that break the law.

HSE's chief executive Geoffrey Podger said: "The most basic safety mistakes in the workplace can devastate lives and result in real costs to industry. It is right that those who fail to meet their legal obligations should pay HSE's costs rather than the public purse having to do so."

Business groups have criticised the move, with the Forum of Private Business (FPB) believing it could lead to a heavy handed and inconsistent treatment from inspectors eager to recover costs.

The Forum's senior policy adviser Alex Jackman called on the HSE to clarify what it constitutes as a 'material breach', saying that uncertainty would lead to different interpretations by inspectors on a business to business basis.

"Given the importance of restoring trust between regulators and small businesses, threatening them with yet more non-compliance fines is entirely the wrong approach - they need information, support and guidance," he said.

A survey by the FPB in May found that only three per cent of its members agreed that businesses should pay the full cost of the FFI, while 90 per cent believed that recovery costs should be scaled according to the size of business and the seriousness of a breach.

Elsewhere in its survey, FPB members commented that good health and safety practices were useful in terms of reducing staff absences and giving companies a competitive edge, particularly locally amongst businesses such as caterers, garages and manufacturers.

However, members would rather see more information and advice offered by HSE.

Jackman added: "We want every government department to understand the significant financial demands on business at present. 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."

HSE will review the FFI rule after twelve months and three years and the resulting report will be published on its website.