Thousands of businesses will be exempted from health and safety inspections and a raft of regulations will be scrapped or overhauled following the Government's pledge to "set businesses free" from the burden of regulation in order to stimulate growth.
The Government today said that in April 2013 it will introduce rules that will result in health and safety checks only taking place at businesses that operate in high-risk industries or at those that already have a poor health and safety record.
However, prior to this move, the Government has said that next month it will change the law so companies will only be liable for civil damages in health and safety cases if they are shown to have acted negligently.
The Government also announced today the next step in its attempts to reduce red tape. This will involve examining approximately 6,500 regulations, of which the Government has "committed" to abolish or substantially reduce 3,000. These will be identified by December 2013.
According to the Government, the changes will "save British companies millions of pounds in wasted time and money and help spur economic growth and innovation across the UK".
Business secretary Vince Cable said: "Removing unnecessary red tape and putting common sense back into areas like health and safety will reduce fears and costs for businesses.
"We want to help give British business the confidence it needs to create more jobs and support the wider economy to grow."
Business minister Michael Fallon added: "Cutting red tape shows the Government is serious about helping businesses to flourish. We're getting out of the way by bringing common sense back to health and safety.
"And we will be holding departments' feet to the fire to ensure all unnecessary red tape is cut, and we can boost the jobs and growth that our economy needs."
The Government's pledge has been welcomed by business groups. Alexander Ehmann, head of regulatory policy at the Institute of Directors, said: "Today's announcements are good news if they are the beginning, not the end of the deregulation story. Excessive regulation costs time and money, both of which businesses would rather spend on developing new products, hiring staff and building up British business both here and abroad."
Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, welcomed the overhaul of health and safety inspections. He said: "Reducing the burden of health and safety red tape will be welcome news to many businesses and is a win for common sense.
"These measures mean that law-abiding, low-risk businesses can live without the constant threat of time-consuming and costly inspections. It's a sensible change whose time has come."
However, today's announcement was criticised by TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, who, speaking at the organisation's annual conference, warned that the changes would put the safety of millions of workers at risk. He said: "Contrary to myths peddled by ministers, the UK is facing an occupational health epidemic. More than 20,000 people die every year as a result of a disease they got through their work and a further 1.9 million people are living with an illness caused by their work.
"Some of the 'low-risk' workplaces identified by the Government, such as shops, actually experience high levels of workplace injuries. This will only get worse if employers find it easier to ignore safety risks.
"Health and safety regulation is not a burden on business, it is a basic protection for workers. Cutting back on regulation and inspections will lead to more injuries and deaths as result of poor safety at work."