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Fifty of HSE's most important information publications, including Approved Codes of Practice on key regulations and other guidance, advice and regulation, are now free to download as part of a major new drive to lessen the financial burdens on business. This figure should rise to a final total of 230 free guides and will include 'a multitude' of industry-specific guides, as well as regulatory information.

The Executive says that £lm worth of its formerly priced publications is now digitally available for free, in the print-friendly PDF format. It hopes that this will significantly improve access to this important information, especially for SMEs and those who could not previously afford the guidance.

The publications will still be available to buy as hard copies, though the content will be identical in substance. The move has been welcomed by trade unions, who have long called for HSE guidance to be made freely available to help improve health and safety standards at work. TUG general secret Brendan Barber said: "This will be a great help to safety representatives in their work with employers to ensure compliance with safety laws and the promotion of good health and safety practice."

The HSE's head of business said the decision was 'a fantastic opportunity' for British businesses, safety representatives and workers, and that it 'will greatly enhance compliance with regulation and best practice'. He added: "Recognising there will still be users who require or prefer HSE's guidance in hard copy formats, HSE will continue to sell high quality book formats of its guidance, as well a: posters and DVDs."

Copyright status on the publications has also been amended to encourage re-use - organisations will no longer have to pay for licensing to reproduce contents.

The publications can be accessed via a new look HSE Books website.