Health, safety and environment round up: hot topics for 2022

We have taken a look at some of the hot topics emerging in health, safety and environment over recent months and interesting recent developments in the area. Here is a short summary of what we found:

COVID-19 public inquiry

Public pressure is building for a timely public inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic, and things have started to progress with the UK Prime Minister announcing on 15 December 2021 that the inquiry chair will be Baroness Heather Hallett DBE.

Baroness Heather Mallett said upon appointment that:

In the new year I will be seeking views from those who have lost loved ones and all other affected groups about the Inquiry’s terms of reference.

In our recent articles, we examine how likely it is that a public inquiry will actually commence in Spring 2022, or in 2022 at all. We also discuss what individuals and/or organisations who think they might be identified as a core participant, should be doing in preparation.

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HSE targeting businesses in Sheffield and Rotherham in January 2022

Starting on 10 January 2022, 22 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors from HSE’s Yorkshire and North East field operations teams, will visit more than 70 organisations in Sheffield and Rotherham for targeted inspections across a number of sectors.

The geographical focus follows what the HSE describe as an “alarming rise” in the number of fatal incidents in the area over the last five years. Companies would be well advised to prepare for unannounced visits from the HSE, by having in place a plan of action for when the time comes (for example, a single point of contact for the HSE and a protocol to escalate matters to the internal health and safety team or legal team, if necessary). Companies may also want to test their own procedures internally, by carrying out their own internal audits as a ‘test run’.

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Introduction of allergen labelling changes

Following the inquest into the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, there has been a recent change to the law relating to foods which are ‘pre-packed for direct sale’ (i.e. food that is packaged at the same place it is offered or sold to consumers).

The change in law, often referred to as ‘Natasha’s Law’, which came into force on 1 October 2021, now requires food that is ‘pre-packed for direct sale’ to be labelled with the name of the food and a full ingredients list, with allergenic ingredients emphasised within the list.

Under the old regime, foods that were ‘pre-packed for direct sale’ were not required to be individually labelled, and the law allowed for a food business operator to make allergen information available to customers “by any means the operator choses”, including orally, subject to it being made known to the customer (e.g. via on site signage) that they can obtain the information in that way.

Many large food outlets affected will likely have been planning for this new law for some time because for some, there will have needed to be careful planning of a large scale shift in day-to-day operations. As the law becomes more embedded, Environmental Health Officers are likely to carry out audits of the new allergen arrangements, to check that businesses are doing what they should be. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has produced guidance to support businesses to meet the changes in allergen labelling requirements, including a generic ‘toolkit’ and sector specific guidance.

The new law does not cover precautionary allergen labelling (i.e. when businesses voluntarily provide information about the potential for unintentional presence of allergens). There has been much debate over recent years about how helpful precautionary allergen labelling is, and the risks associated with it. Changes in this regard may also be afoot because, in December 2021, the FSA launched a consultation on this topic. The consultation welcomes view on various matters including the way that wording such as “may contain” is used on food packaging. The consultation will be open until 14 March 2022 and is open to any interested party by way of an online survey on the FSA website.

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