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Preparing for the next round of health and safety legislation

14 May 2021

Expectations for new requirements to consider so that each workplace complies with future health and safety legal requirements.

Ensuring that facilities comply with all the elements of relevant legal requirements is considered one of the essential elements of an FM’s role and one of the aspects to be included at the heart of each operation and project.

It is one of the metaphorical plates to be kept spinning, in conjunction with numerous others.

However, similar to many areas of everyday life, the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a swathe of changes for FMs to consider, particularly in relation to health and safety.

Facilities have had to be adapted to ensure that everyone using them remains as safe as possible, resulting in the installation of Perspex screens, hand sanitisers, signage, one-way systems and many other measures, including upgraded cleaning processes and provision of face coverings, while also supporting colleagues working from home.

With the UK lockdown restrictions beginning to ease again and many facilities either reopening or preparing to do so, FMs and service providers are focusing on the need to help all those returning to their place of work.

One of the key elements within this is to explain all the changes made to the facility to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Amongst the delivery of safer workplaces and higher levels of communication and support, FMs are additionally questioning how the UK will further adjust its health and safety legislation.

There is an urgent need to ensure that all requirements are understood and appropriate measures are in place, as always, well in advance of any deadlines.

In order to assist with this central element of the FM role, PFM asked three industry experts for their thoughts on what changes or new introductions should be expected in the wake of the most dramatic period of non-wartime activities in living memory.

First to respond is Tended founder and chief executive officer Leo Scott Smith, who says:

“There has probably never been a more difficult moment to predict how health and safety compliancy requirements will change, and what that will mean for business. What we can predict is that change will continue to be the norm, driven by the twin pillars of Brexit and Covid-19.”

The increased pace of change will go hand-in-hand with the level of public scrutiny, he continues. What was once considered one of the less “appealing” areas of policy, now matters more than ever to the “ordinary” voter.

“They now have a renewed appreciation for health and safety in the workplace, because they have likely not been able to visit the workplace for health and safety reasons,” says Mr Scott Smith.

“And that goes for the regulators themselves too, just as compliance has become more important, it has become harder for the HSE to enforce.”

It is estimated that the Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) legislation in the UK has experienced over 200 changes since the end of the transition period, despite best efforts to “carry” EU legislation into the UK’s domestic legal system.

“Predictable? Perhaps, but that doesn’t make it easier for businesses that need to keep on the right side of the law and employee wellbeing in the here and now. Those organisations that best navigate the next 12 months will be those that communicate. “We all need to keep talking, with regulators, legislators and above all, those that they owe a duty of care to,” Mr Scott Smith concludes.

TÜV SÜD UK business assurance manager David Goodfellow says: “Work health and safety (WHS) involves the management of risks to the health and safety of everyone in your workplace.

"This includes the health and safety of anyone who does work for you, as well as your customers, visitors and suppliers.“

Each UK state has its own WHS laws and a regulator to enforce them, he continues. The WHS framework for each state includes acts, regulations, codes of practice, and a regulating agency (regulator).

Also, the types and number of incidents/accidents which are reported to the regulatory body will determine future changes to compliance requirements.

The global Covid-19 pandemic is an extreme situation and is of course far removed from normal WHS compliance requirements.

Leo Scott Smith, Tended CEO

He further explains that the Coronavirus Act 2020 (c 7) is an act of the UK Parliament that grants the government emergency powers to handle the Coronavirus pandemic.

The act allows the government the discretionary power to limit or suspend public gatherings, to detain individuals suspected to be infected by Covid-19 and to intervene or relax regulations in a range of sectors to limit transmission of the disease, ease the burden on public health services and assist healthcare workers and the economically affected.

“The Covid situation will take some time to improve. Despite the vaccination programme being well advanced, currently every industry must follow the norms, such as social distancing and the wearing of face masks.

“It may initially cost money and time to implement safe practices and install safety equipment, but is critical to business success. Not taking action could result in prosecution, fines and loss of skilled staff,” says Mr Goodfellow.

Eaton segment lead commercial buildings Marc Gaunt looks at changes driven by the Grenfell Tower disaster and refers readers to the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety report, which found that those responsible for the safety of buildings are not discouraged enough from failing to comply with their responsibilities.

“Under new governmental regulations large monetary fines and the possibility of prosecution have been introduced as deterrents to negligence for those responsible for the safety of a high rise residential building during the design and construction, and those responsible for when residents are living there,” he continues.

However, there is ultimately no one size fits all approach when it comes to building safety and whilst Mr Gaunt says no one wishes to see unnecessary constraints, additional costs or bureaucracy, the Hackitt report has made it clear that a significant change in UK construction culture needs to take place.

As well as looking at the risks associated with high rise residential buildings, the Hackitt report also statistically highlighted risks with other buildings.

“The Grenfell fire was a disaster which will always be foremost in our minds, but the government must not wait to legislate improved construction processes and technologies for other high risk buildings.

"Supported/sheltered housing and hospitals are only second and third respectively to prisons for rates of fires involving casualties or fatality and typically are occupied by some of the most vulnerable in society.

“Furthermore, care homes, educational establishments with residence (eg student accommodation) and hotels rates of over 20 times that of an office. Legislation must not wait for a further disaster to occur in buildings of significant risk,” says Mr Gaunt.

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