Workers' Rights on Health and Safety to Be Scaled Down
Wright, Oliver, The Independent (London, England)
Ministers want to cut red tape and end 'spurious' claims but unions are furious
Injured workers will be forced to prove that their employer was directly to blame for their accident before they are eligible for compensation under tough new legislation which critics allege will scale back workers' rights to those of "Victorian times".
Under proposals that Labour have claimed were "sneaked into Parliament", ministers are trying to amend health and safety laws to water down employers' liability for accidents and leave employees having to prove that their managers were negligent.
The Government claims the move will cut red tape, end the "unfairness" to companies in current health and safety legislation and stop them from having to pay out for "spurious" personal injury claims. But unions say the move will increase litigation costs, erode safety standards in the workplace and make it harder for workers to claim legitimate compensation.
Figures released this week by the Health and Safety Executive show that last year 173 people died as a result of workplace accidents and 22,433 were seriously injured.
The Government published a review this year of existing health and safety regulations conducted by Professor Ragnar Lfstedt, director of the King's Centre for Risk Management at King's College, London.
Last month, it announced an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. The new Business minister, Matthew Hancock, told MPs this was based on Professor Lfstedt's recommendations and would remove the concept of "strict liability" - whereby companies are liable for injuries regardless of negligence if certain health and safety rules are breached.
"The fear of being sued drives businesses to exceed what is required by the criminal law, diverting them from focusing on sensible preventive health and safety management and resulting in unnecessary costs and burdens," he said.
However, the Lfstedt review did not call for the blanket removal of strict liability. Instead it called for a review of where strict liability was necessary. "These proposals were sneaked into [the Bill] at the last possible moment after the legislation had been through committee," said Labour's business spokesman Iain Wright.
Karl Tonks, head of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said the Government's proposals would "turn back the clock on workplace safety to the 19th century".
A spokesperson for the Department of Business denied that the changes would remove the right of individuals to bring a personal injury claim against their employer for negligence.
"Currently, most claims are brought for both breach of statutory duty and negligence. The change only affects those claims which rely on a technical breach where there is no evidence the employer was at fault," he said. …