health and safety

FFI? Health & Safety wheeze about to hit the buffers?

FFIas acronyms go it’s an ‘open goal’...if you’re looking for a cheap larf that is.

As ideas go, FFI is more of an ‘own goal’ but it ain’t no laughing matter because this particular Government wheeze, introduced last October, is helping to undermine 170 years of progress in workplace safety.

The evidence is that the scheme is spectacularly failing to deliver on its key objective which is: to make companies pay for Health & Safety Executive visits where breaches of health and safety regulations have occurred.

Only a blinkered, insurance-lobby friendly Government, driven by an anti-workplace safey agenda and a mis-guided dogmatic belief in the ‘compensation culture’ would have thought an idea like this would work…and what’s worse, only such a Government would have foisted this change on UK industry.

The idea was that a system of charges caled FFI – Fees For Intervention – would make companies guilty of ‘material breaches’ of health & safety law pay for the HSE’s investigation costs and help fill a large hole in its budget caused by government funding cuts. However, in its first year just ended, the scheme to cover HSE-related costs, which include call-outs, inspections, investigations and taking enforcement action for companies in breach of safety laws, brought in just £5,532,565.

The government had ‘ambitiously’ put a cap on the amount of income HSE could retain from the scheme at £10m for 2012/13, £17m for 2013/14 and £23m for 2014/15. Clearly the first year results suggest the contentious scheme will not deliver anything like this boost to HSE’s income.

If the FFI income comes in at the same rate throughout this financial year, it would leave HSE with a fees and DWP income of around £170m for 2013/14, compared to the £239.4m HSE received from DWP in 2009/10, the last year before the current government took power.

The TUC, among other concerned commentators, is concerned that the fees scheme may have made firms more reluctant to report injuries, which it suspects part explains the drop in reported major injuries last year.

What this scheme has delivered is a quadruple whammy:

  • A reluctance by business owners to ask HSE for advice for fear of incurring charges
  • A further reduction in HSE income

leading to

  • An even more reduced level of HSE inspections

leading to

  • An increased likelihood of breaches of health and safety legislation – AND MORE DANGEROUS WORKPLACES.

It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to ponder the motive behind this cost-cutting and cost-shifting ‘initiative.’

Tellingly, major insurance group ZURICH, has delivered the following advice to its customers on it’s website:

“One final point, those in key health and safety roles should be aware of this fundamental change to the HSE’s role. No longer should the HSE be seen as an advisory service. In fact, highlighting issues that are of concern to a business could result in a finding of a ‘material breach’ and a fee being applied.”

If that doesn’t help reduce reported health & safety breaches…