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ACOP’s Update

In line with the Lofstedt review, HSE are considering chopping or modifying a whole load of approved codes of practice (ACOPs). ACOPs hold a special place in UK Law. In short, they both explain what the law intended to say and also translate complicated legal speak into tangible examples of what it would look like in practice. This is supposed to give confidence to employers that they are doing enough. But, ACoPs can be used in evidence in criminal cases. As a result, they are not flights of fancy into what they might like to see but rather somewhat clipped pronouncements.

HSE is striving to be more and more realistic and, in line with current government campaigns, remove unnecessary burdens on business. The tick is to maintain standards of safety at the same time. HSE have been making headway into translating sometimes vague legal requirements into proportionate practical tools for low risk workplaces.

For those of you who have read an ACOP, it can sometimes leave you no clearer than reading the unadulterated legislation itself. If that is the case then it has failed to achieve its objective – to make the law’s intentions more concrete. In amongst many proposed consolidations of ACoPs (often a good thing, even if making it easier to find where stuff is), one particular ACoP is identified for possible removal altogether – that for the Management Regulations. This has appalled some people. It’s tantamount to getting rid of the British Monarchy. The problem is that this ACoP is pretty vague. But this is understandable because so are the regulations; this is because the subject matter (management) is also vague, when compared to, say, machinery guarding. There are a myriad of ways and approaches of effectively managing businesses, so all that is discussed is principals. Nice, but probably not that much help compared to say a self-help group. HSE have recognised that essentially it does not add much to what is already available. And therefore, probably falls short of what is expected of an ACoP – giving confidence that you know whether you are within the law.

So, I think HSE have taken a brave and honest step.One somewhat strange part of the consultation is the consideration of imposing an arbitrary 32 page limit on the length of an ACoP. This, whilst well intended, is, I think, ill conceived. Whilst brevity is laudable, if it fights against the intention of clarity, usability and practicality, then it has missed the point. Instead, there should be a range of quality standards (like usability) applied. Sure, length can be a consideration, but that will depend on the complexity of the legislation.

On the whole, it’s a fair cop.