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HSE FEARFUL OF GROWING ’BLUE TAPE’ BURDEN

hselogo1ISO 45001 could generate fresh business to business demands

HSE uses the term ‘Blue Tape’ to describe burdens arising when business to business health and safety obligations are “disproportionate or lead to ineffective risk control and ownership.”

The regulator reports that the evidence for Blue Tape is “wide-ranging and large-scale” in relation to: supply chain accreditation; procurement; management standards; civil law (personal injury claims); insurance; and the role of third party advisers or consultants as both the symptom and driver of Blue Tape.

Costly paperwork exercises for all

The HSE Board meeting in March 2018 considered the Blue Tape problem. Key observations noted were reported as follows:

  • Impact on the SME – business to business obligations cumulatively outrank Government regulation as a driver of duty holder action on health and safety. Blue Tape affects businesses of all sizes but impacts on disproportionately on the SME sector. HSE stakeholders report these burdens as a significant and growing issue for the health and safety system;
  • Paperwork exercises – a single well-designed accreditation scheme tailored to a specific sector can help improve health and safety and strengthen supply chain assurance. However, proliferation (with businesses required to sign up to multiple/ overlapping schemes) leads to a lack of focus, and brings no further health and safety benefits. Similar issues may be a feature of card schemes for health and safety competence. The Board Paper concluded:

“Supply chain assurance and standards certification can play a valuable role, but could be undermined if (as stakeholders have suggested) they are becoming no more than a costly paperwork exercise for winning business.”;

  • Third Party Role – Blue Tape feeds off a sense that health and safety is too complex for businesses to tackle themselves. This drives the demand for third party help in the false belief that it will buy ‘regulatory compliance’ and defence against civil claims. Tackling Blue Tape ‘agents’ matters increasingly as HSE inspection and enforcement becomes more targeted to specific areas. A lack of third parties’ transparency about what they can deliver is compounded by duty holder inability to be an “intelligent customer”;
  • Empowering ‘Victims’ – HSE can add value by empowering duty holders to navigate customer/supply chain demands; equip them to make better use of consultant advice to achieve compliance; and resist disproportionate obligations such as some insurer demands after civil claims; and
  • Improved HSE information – HSE  targeted work to support SMEs will also be important in improving visibility and reach of the HSE website material and so helping more duty holders achieve proportionate compliance without recourse to paid advice from third parties.

 

Actions taken or planned by HSE

The HSE action taken or in progress to address Blue Tape issues in 2017/18 include:

  1. ISO 45001 Proportionality – BSI has been encouraged to build proportionality into the UK guidance for a new international standard for health and safety management systems (ISO 45001);
  2. Civil Claims – HSE is exploring with Ministry of Justice (MoJ) options for a more proportionate approach to evidencing a defence to civil claims;
  3. Government Procurement – Working with the Crown Commercial Service to make public sector procurement guidance in relation to health and safety more proportionate;

HSE accept that Blue Tape cannot be completely eradicated. A realistic approach is required to bring it under control working with the market to secure improvement. Doing nothing means businesses continue to suffer and this is not seen as an option for HSE. Two further actions recommended are:

  1. Guidance – Help duty holders better navigate blue tape. Guidance from HSE to show examples of good/bad use of competent person advice; proportionate implementation of ISO 45001; sensible use of accreditation schemes; and proportionate insurer advice.
  2. Influence – Develop a strategy to influence key stakeholders. This aims to raise awareness and performance so duty holders can: achieve compliance or focus effort on improvements appropriately; enhance transparency; and broker solutions for delivery – e.g. through their websites or guidance. Stakeholders to be influenced include health and safety professional bodies; accreditation scheme owners; contracting organisations; insurers; trade bodies; Primary Authority community; UKAS/BSI through BEIS governance; and others in Government.

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