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Regulation for rogue safety experts needed

Businesses are wasting thousands of pounds on excessive health and safety measures thanks to bad advice from rogue consultants, an influential group of MPs warned today.

The Government must introduce a system for regulating experts to stop firms implementing reams of unnecessary red tape, according to the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

However, the MPs also insisted that penalties for those who committed serious breaches of health and safety legislation were too low - and called for companies to be scrutinised more often.

The criticisms were delivered in the cross-party committee's latest report on health and safety in workplaces.

They praised the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for its efforts to debunk "myths" over regulations but they warned that many of these examples were the result of firms receiving poor advice from consultants.

The MPs cited evidence from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, the body which represents consultants, warning that rogue experts could currently operate unchecked.

Richard Jones, Policy and Technical Director, told the MPs: "The sad fact is that anybody can set themselves up as a health and safety consultant and start operating, anybody can call themselves a health and safety adviser without any level of qualification or experience, which we think is wrong."

The committee said the Department for Work and Pensions Minister Lord McKenzie of Luton had recognised the problem and told them he was considering action.

"The Minister agreed that over-zealous health and safety advisers encourage employers to produce overburdensome risk assessments," the report concludes.

"We therefore recommend that the Government, in consultation with the IOSH, introduces recognised accreditation for health and safety consultants and advisers, with appropriate sanctions for malpractice."

Committee chairman Terry Rooney said recent rises in fatalities on construction sites were not acceptable and said the HSE should boost its front-line staff.

"At present businesses can expect an HSE inspection just once every 14.5 years," he said. "This is not enough to act as a deterrent to those employers tempted to cut corners on health and safety."

He added: "Where duties are not met, penalties must reflect the seriousness of the threat to workers' safety."