EHOs check food safety
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has refused to endorse a controversial business compliance scheme in Greater Manchester.
Under the scheme, which has been running since April 2011, business compliance assessors (BCAs) visit firms to ‘gather intelligence’ and ‘identify major risks’ in food safety, health and safety, licensing and trading standards.
The FSA told EHN that the scheme lacked robust evidence.
‘Our position is clear: we have not endorsed this specific model,’ said a spokesperson. ‘To do so we would require a robust evaluation demonstrating that the scheme maintains public health protection.’
The FSA, which has offered to assess the scheme, said that the food law code of practice did allow visits by assessors in categories D and E establishments but not in category C establishments.
The spokesperson added that it was monitoring a number of similar schemes.
‘The FSA is aware of a number of new approaches by local authorities aimed at supporting the delivery of official controls to improve food business compliance,’ said a spokesperson.
The food law code of practice provides statutory guidance on the delivery of official controls and the enforcement of food safety legislation. Local authorities must have regard to it when undertaking their duties.
The scheme was developed by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) and operates across ten local authorities including Manchester, Wigan and Bolton.
AGMA believes it will save ‘taxpayers money’ and ‘reduce the burden on business’ by preventing multiple visits by different regulators.
However the CIEH argues the assessors are not suitably qualified.
Tony Lewis, CIEH head of education and professional standards, said: ‘The April 2012 food law code of practice specifies that those persons authorised under the Food Safety Act should be suitably qualified, experienced and competent.’
‘Appropriate qualifications are also specified in the code and they are the certificate of registration of EHRB or its antecedents and the higher and ordinary certificates in food premises inspection.’
‘Business compliance assessors do not hold these qualifications and the training that they undertake is not equivalent to any of these qualifications.’
He said scheme offered inappropriate levels of protection.
‘To even consider employing persons in this role who have undertaken a short training course at a level that is well below that of any of the accepted qualifications is the height of folly and undermines all of those persons who already hold the ordinary or higher certificates.
‘Holders of the higher and ordinary certificates hold knowledge, skills and competences that are accredited by a creditable third party as being of a standard and which meet the requirements of the code of practice.
‘There is no such assurance in respect of the AGMA business compliance awareness assessors qualifications and, as such, such persons represent a risk to their employer, themselves and to the wider public. In short, such minimalist qualifications offer inappropriate levels of protection for public health.’
Paul Robinson, who helped develop the AGMA scheme and now trains assessors, told EHN that the assessors only visited businesses that would otherwise not have been visited.
‘Business compliance assessors only visit those businesses that regulators would not otherwise visit – i.e. those premises that are not scheduled for an inspection by a regulator. Many of these premises pose considerable risks to employees and the public and, without assessors visits, these would remain unaddressed,’ he said.
Mr Robinson said all assessors were required to have an EHRB qualification in business compliance assessment.
‘Their ability and competence to undertake business compliance assessments and to gather relevant information and pass that on in a consistent and accurate manner is rigorously assessed and confirmed, ‘ he said.
Feedback from the regulators, he continued, and regular accompanied visits ensured their assessments were consistent.
‘A competence framework exists for the BCAs at both basic level and advanced level, which the FSA has been party to, and there has been significant investment in the training and validation of the BCAs’ knowledge and competence,’ he said.
He added that it is important to note that the BCAs are ‘not classed as regulators’ as they ‘do not carry out any enforcement role’.
‘Neither do they give advice to businesses on how to comply with regulations. They do not encroach on the roles of EHOs or technical support staff,’ he said.