Weekly dilemma: Health and safety reporting changes

My company currently informs the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) if a member of staff sustains an injury in the workplace that requires an absence from work of more than three days. I have heard there are some changes coming in that will extend this time period further. What are these changes and do I have to prepare for them in any way?

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 currently require organisations to report to the HSE or their local authority any incident that results in an employee being absent from work for more than three consecutive days.

However, following a public consultation in favour of an extended reporting threshold, the HSE will recommend that the reporting requirements should only apply where an incident results in a period of absence of more than seven days. Amendments to the Regulations will be brought before Parliament next February and, if passed, the new arrangements will come into force on 6 April 2012.

The key objective for the change is to improve the effectiveness of the reporting of workplace accidents by reducing unnecessary burdens on business while maintaining standards of compliance. It is expected that the amendments will reduce the level of bureaucracy on business, and significantly reduce the number of reports that businesses will need to make.

The change will align reporting requirements with the new “fit note” system for managing sickness at work. This will ensure that all persons who have suffered a reportable injury will have had a professional medical assessment, reducing the risk or spurious or exaggerated sickness and injury claims.

Fit notes replaced the traditional sick note by giving doctors the option not just to sign people off as unfit for work but also, where appropriate, to advise that a patient may be fit for work if offered a phased return to work, altered hours, amended duties or workplace adjustments. It had been hoped that this would reduce the number of employees on long-term sickness and assist employers in getting people back to work more quickly. However, doubts remain about whether or not these objectives have been met and whether or not all that has changed in reality is the form rather than the approach of doctors.

Until the legislation comes into force, you must continue to comply with the current three-day reporting requirement. You should not make changes to your reporting policies until the legislation comes into force, but you may wish to plan for the changes once the amendments have been passed by Parliament next February. Despite the proposed changes, it is important that you continue to maintain a high level of vigilance and ensure that health and safety Regulations are being fully complied with. Safety must remain a high priority in order to maintain a safe working environment and keep instances of injury to a minimum. Any incident at work has potential cost implications, including the cost of lost time through absence, temporary staff cover and relevant insurance costs.

You should also note that the HSE is due to make changes to the way that incidents and injuries are reported from 12 September 2011. From this date onwards, reports to the HSE will be made predominantly by completing one of several online forms. As of 12 September 2011, it will not be possible to report incidents by email, post or fax.

Jane Cox, partner, employment team, and Chris Green, partner, health and safety law, Weightmans LLP

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