Plans to recover inspection costs from companies that break health and safety rules could lead to waste companies facing unfairly high bills, sector chiefs have warned.
Under the fees for intervention scheme, which will begin on 1 October subject to parliamentary approval, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will be able to charge firms £124 an hour for inspections or investigations that uncover “material breaches” of the law.
The scheme would apply to any contravention that resulted in the inspector writing to the company involved.
The Environmental Services Association (ESA) supports the principle of rule-breaking companies footing the inspection bill but has concerns around implementation of the plans.
Stephen Freeland, policy executive at the ESA, said the definition of what constituted a “material breach” of health and safety law was not clear enough.
He said: “It seems to be up to the discretion of the officer and that is going to be quite concerning.”
He also feared companies might have to foot the bill for an entire inspection if a breach was found at the end of a week-long visit and also called on the HSE to competitively tender for inspection firms in order to reduce costs.
The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) also raised concerns in its consultation response that the application of the rules might vary between inspectors.
While it welcomed the plans’ principles, it called for the HSE to schedule a review of the plans for a year or two years into the new regime to correct any issues that may have arisen.
CIWM chief executive Steve Lee added: “We think it reinforces the importance of planning not to have an incident so we think it should support the good and responsible operators in the business.”
In an impact assessment of the proposals published in June 2011 the HSE estimated it will recover up to £43.6m of costs each year through the system, although the figure was based on the original hourly rate of £133 which has since been lowered to £124.
The paper said inspections that found breaches which resulted in a letter or email and lasted about three quarters of a day would cost about £750. Those that triggered an improvement or prohibition notice could cost £1,500.
An investigation into an accident or complaint lasting four days that found a breach of the rules could cost the firm investigated about £4,000. However all costs are based on the time spent on the case and the figures were based on the old £133 hourly rate.