The government’s “massive” reduction in the number of inspections carried out on low risk environments such as shops, restaurants and takeaways could lead to reduced health and safety standards and more accidents, the health and safety expert Bibby Consulting & Support has warned.

Routine checks on businesses used to be carried out by the local authority environmental health officer (EHO) who could pick up minor defects and breaches of legislation before they escalated into something more serious. From April 2013, these checks will no longer be carried out on any premises deemed to be low risk.

However, according to Michael Slade, Managing Director of Bibby Consulting & Support, for those companies who may be operating without access to health and safety guidance, fewer inspections could leave them exposed to heavier penalties. Without the involvement of EHOs, companies will now have to self-comply with legislation – and without professional help they could get into difficulties.

“We have always been a very strong supporter of any programme that aims to reduce the burden of red tape for businesses,” said Slade. “But it’s an accepted fact that a reduced level of inspection and guidance from the regulating authorities could reduce standards in health and safety, which is likely to lead to more accidents and work related ill health.”

He added: “This in turn will lead to steeper sentences and higher fines because instead of picking issues up early, companies will be hit hard should an accident occur. And in the recent past we have seen businesses forced to shut down because of the size of penalty imposed on them.”

Slade concluded: “This news comes 12 months after the HSE removed its info line, which had been an extremely useful reference point for so many small companies. While we are campaigning for the removal of excessive regulation, we cannot condone any changes which see small businesses left without free support and guidance. The government really must start to consider how its health and safety policies are going to affect the small business community.”