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New guidelines from the UK Government could impact on the length of time available for people to comment on plans to cut health and safety legislation, according to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

The professional body for health and safety practitioners is concerned about new ‘Consultation Principles’, which were published by the Cabinet Office in July. These set out a new approach to the way that the Government consults on all proposed changes to the law or policy. They cover such issues as the method of consultation; the transparency of the consultation and the provision of information.

More controversial, however, are changes to the timing of consultations.

At the moment, consultations usually last 12 weeks but, according to the new guidelines, in future “the amount of time required will depend on the nature and impact of the proposal (for example, the diversity of interested parties or the complexity of the issue, or even external events), and might typically vary between two and 12 weeks.”

In some cases, no consultation will be required at all, depending on the issue involved and the existing level of engagement with interested parties.

When it comes to health and safety legislation this, says IOSH, will not give people enough time to have their say – a step that is foolhardy when lives are at stake.

According to IOSH Head of Policy and Public Affairs Richard Jones, stakeholders need adequate time to gather and submit data if the ‘impact assessments’ that support legislative proposals are to be sufficiently robust and evidence-based.

“We therefore would be concerned if the consultation period on important consultations was reduced below the current 12 weeks,” he said.The IOSH has already raised concerns about the speed and scale of the consultation exercise the government is currently undertaking into proposed health and safety reforms.

“This latest development, far from heeding the concerns that we and others have raised, seems to herald a potential worsening of the situation,” said Jones. “It’s vital that those who may have important intelligence to contribute and those who may be affected by government proposals, are given full opportunity to have their voices heard. Consultation isn’t about rushing, it’s about listening.” 

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