On 1st October 2012 the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) cost recovery scheme came into effect. Known as Fee for Intervention (FFI), it is designed to recoup the costs of investigating and bringing to court those found to be in ‘material breach’ of health and safety laws. From now on these companies will be ordered to pay a recovery cost, charged at a set hourly rate of £124 per hour and based on the amount of time taken for HSE inspectors to identify a breach of legislation and to conclude any necessary regulatory action.

Some companies, particularly in the construction business, have voiced fears that the system could be misused as a way to raise funds as government spending cuts start to bite. Most criticism, however, has concentrated on the new regulation’s perceived inflexibility and lack of clarity.

Yet these detractors are overlooking one important fact: FFI can and will only affect those companies that contravene health and safety laws (by committing a material breach). Businesses that have in place health and safety management systems to effectively control workplace risks and comply with legislation stand a far lower chance of facing the fees and so have little to fear.

A material breach occurs when there is, or has been, a contravention of health and safety law which, in the opinion of the HSE Inspector, requires the HSE to issue a notice in writing to the business. Thus, according to the HSE, “FFI will encourage businesses and organisations to comply in the first place or put matters right quickly when they don’t. It will also discourage those who undercut their competitors by not complying with the law and putting people at risk.”

Responsible companies should always be focused on avoiding breaches of health and safety regulation in the first place, making sure the correct health and safety management is in place and is sufficiently high profile within their organisations.

Having a watertight paper trail demonstrating compliance will help ensure investigations are concluded promptly, but prevention rather than cure is the sensible way to view the new regulations. Organisations will need to keep up to date with the changes to ensure they continue to have effective health and safety management systems and procedures in place. Being proactive in terms of installing a safety management system could prove critical to avoiding incidents and staying within the law.

Automating and streamlining processes with a health and safety management system is an easy way to provide a business with accessible, up-to-date information on new ways to ensure and maintain compliance. Putting this in place now will mean that your company is well-positioned to face the new regulations and escape burdensome costs.