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Red tape case gets under way

NEWS - Firms fear being swamped by health and safety legislation

A COURT case that contractors fear will tie their businesses up in health and safety red tape is set to drag on until 2007.

The European Commission brought the case against the UK Government, claiming it has failed to implement European health and safety legislation properly.

If the EC is successful, British contractors will no longer be able to prioritise big risks over trivial ones. All will have to be equally assessed. This could mean hazards presented by plant pots and paperclips on site might have to be treated the same as scaffolding, machinery or electrical equipment.

The case started at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg earlier this month and is not expected to finish until early next year.

Neil Budworth, president of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health - the largest body for health and safety professionals in Europe - said: 'If this decision goes against the UK Government, all of the work we've put in to win confidence in the present system will be lost.

'We urge the Government to defend this case to the hilt, and call on the EU to drop this ridiculous case.'

The institution fears that if the EC is successful in its battle many companies will be tangled in red tape at a time when health and safety bodies are trying to balance the scale of risk against the ways to control it.

Health & Safety Executive data shows there has been a 75 per cent reduction in workplace fatalities since the introduction of the Health & Safety At Work Act in 1974. Concerns are growing that, if the court favours the EC's challenge, it would set health and safety back, putting lives at risk.

Mr Budworth said: 'If the UK Government loses the case, health and safety in this country could be turned back 40 years. All of our current legislation will have to be rewritten and employers will be required to assess every risk, regardless of how small that risk is.'