• International Workplace
  • 5 January 2001

Be Prepared for Changes to Health and Safety Law in 2001, warns Facilities Management Legal Update

The coming year will see the biggest change in health and safety enforcement possible since the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and definitely since the "six-pack" regulations in 1992, warns Ciaron Dunne, writing in the latest issue of Facilities Management Legal Update.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed, and facilities managers should be planning ahead for the new legislation and, where possible, budgeting for the expense of compliance.

Expected major changes, reported in the January issue of Facilities Management Legal Update, include the following points.

1. Penalties for health and safety offences will be increased, including raising the Magistrate's maximum fine to £20,000 for most offences; making prison sentences available for most offences; and punishing culpable managers and directors with unpaid suspension and community service orders.

2. New legislation is being considered by the HSE that would require employers to investigate accidents that are notifiable under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 1995. Facilities managers would have to exercise extreme caution not to admit liability in their accident reports - much as car drivers are advised by insurance companies never to admit liability for a road accident.

3. There will be important and high-profile changes to the asbestos regulations, placing the responsibility for risk assessment and asbestos management firmly with the facilities manager. The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2001 are expected in May 2001.

4. The HSE will launch a major enforcement campaign in three areas of occupational health in 2001 - stress, workplace smoking, and vibration-related injuries.

- The HSE is working on management standards to help managers deal with the problems of stress at work. These standards will place the onus on managers to undertake risk assessments to establish what the causes of stress might be, and how these causes can be dealt with. New guidance for employers is expected in spring 2001.

- The HSE has also decided upon an Approved Code of Practice to deal with passive smoking in the workplace. The Code will require facilities managers to introduce a total or partial ban on smoking in the workplace and to make sure that building ventilation meets certain standards. Employers must be careful, however, when introducing a smoking policy not to leave themselves open to claims of constructive dismissal from employees.

- HSE research in 2000 revealed that the health risks caused by vibration are greater than previously thought. New guidance on Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome has already been published in 2001, and facilities managers would do well to review their procedures relating to power tools to avoid what will undoubtedly be a big area for compensation claims this year.

5. Proposals for a new offence of Corporate Killing have received much coverage in both the FM and mainstream press. The proposals did not feature in the recently announced Safety Bill, but are expected to resurface during 2001. The new charge would make large employers much more at risk from prosecution and the commercial implications of having a corporate killing charge against your organisation's name should be enough to press most organisations into improving their procedures.

Ciaron Dunne, commenting on the forthcoming changes to health and safety law, said: "The changes will undoubtedly have a significant effect on the management of the workplace and will make the role of the facilities manager even more important to the successful running of an organisation. Facilities managers should not expect their workload to get any lighter!".


Notes to Editors

1. Facilities Management Legal Update is the UK's leading legal journal for facilities managers and workplace professionals. An annual subscription costs £99 for 12 issues. For more information contact publishers Asset Information Ltd on Tel: (01223) 511902

2. Ciaron Dunne is the Editor of Facilities Management Legal Update and is available for interview on legal issues in facilities management.