WorkSafe Victoria’s Executive Director – Health and Safety, Ian Forsyth mentioned one of the necessary economic choices faced by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) when speaking at a breakfast seminar in early February 2012. He said that HSE is
“…under the pump politically [and] I think they’re either just, or about to, press the button on inspectors charging 133 pounds per hour for their workplace visits……If they find an issue they will be charging the employer 133 quid an hour and they hope to make 10 million pounds out of that”
The concept of fee for intervention (FFI) was new to most in the seminar audience and it needed more explanation and context although the seminar imposed tight time constraints. Given the economic status of the United Kingdom such cost recovery methods are logical, if unpalatable.
Forsyth missed an opportunity to explain what was happening in the UK and whether this could occur in Australia but did say that we would likely hear the FFI screams from the business sector even in Australia. That is not the impression being given by HSE or the business sector. FFI has been established as a cost recovery measure not revenue raising as his comments above imply.
HSE has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that the planned date for the “fee for intervention” (FFI) program is 1 April 2012, pending the successful passage of legislation.
“Firstly, it is reasonable that duty holders that operate in material breach of the law should bear the costs incurred by the regulator in putting things right, rather than the taxpayer. Secondly, it will provide an incentive for businesses to meet their obligations. Thirdly, it will provide a level playing field for those who do comply. Central to the scheme is the fact that compliant businesses will pay nothing and a contravention has to be significant – a material breach of law – to attract FFI. This ensures that the minimisation of costs incurred by any business within scope is in its own hands.”
The political attraction is clear – the health and safety of workers is back in the hands of the employer and the employer has an understanding of a base penalty/fee for non-compliance. Of course there have been issues of concern in some UK sectors but these seem to be principally about inspectors applying the non-compliance too heavily or frivolously. HSE believes that FFI is supported by a robust dispute resolution process and will be providing clarification on the matter in a guidance note.
FFI is an initiative that should be closely watched in other jurisdictions but must be considered in the current economic context of the United Kingdom.