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Cutting through health and safety “blue tape”

A recent report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has explored the issue of “blue tape” – health and safety rules imposed not by government regulation but by businesses on each other – and the impact this has on SMEs and the wider health and safety system.

According to the report, titled Understanding the Impact of Business to Business Health and Safety ‘Rules’ , these rules and restrictions cause confusion, fear and administrative burden, and in some cases are “disproportionate or lead to ineffective risk control and ownership”.

This blue tape, coupled with inconsistent (sometimes incompetent) advice, risks discrediting sensible regulation and good guidance and practice. After all, despite health and safety having acquired a reputation for being overly prescriptive, the aim of regulation is never to create barriers or invite excessive paperwork but to find sensible, proportionate ways to reduce risk and keep people safe.

Despite this, the report found that almost 40% of the 2,000 SMEs surveyed believe the policies and procedures they have in place to be “excessive and disproportionate” and 35% said there was “no real link between what they have to do for health and safety and actually keeping employees safe”.

This latest report follows a paper produced by the HSE in March last year titled Tackling Blue Tape, which found that businesses are more likely to take action on health and safety as a result of supply chain pressure or fear of civil liability than through a genuine drive to improve safety.

What this comes down to is a failure to understand what the law requires. Businesses start interpreting legislation incorrectly, and as a result give themselves and other businesses too many rules to follow. This skewed perception of regulatory burden means that the HSE then gets the blame, which in turn may limit the government’s ability to effect change via regulatory reform.

The value of good advice

The HSE suggests that these rules arise from a number of sources, including the external support businesses receive. While the purpose of leaning on a professional is to reduce health and safety burden, the report states that: “The overall value of third-party advice to duty holders can be compromised where a segment of the market delivers advice that is neither tailored to the user nor (in some cases) even competent.”

Ellis Whittam, the experts behind Bira Legal, provide personalised support to 17,700 UK employers and understand the pressures placed on SMEs when it comes to meeting their health and safety responsibilities. Using their 350 years’ combined experience of keeping clients safe, they help independent retailers across the UK to simplify compliance through proportionate advice and realistic solutions that will have a direct benefit on your business.

Find out more about Bira Legal

For expert guidance and clarification that will allow you cut through health and safety blue tape, contact Bira Legal on 0345 450 0937 or email