The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, currently going through the Westminster Parliament, might not sound to you as though it should have much to do with personal injury law but it does. Specifically, it is claims for injury arising from accidents at work that are potentially affected and the consequences are significant.
A late amendment was introduced to the Bill by the Government in October 2012, without consultation. If this new provision becomes law, the effect will be to make breaches of health and safety regulations – which currently give rise to civil liability on the part of employers – no longer actionable.
UK health and safety law has undergone a revolution particularly in the last 20 years as a result of workplace directives and regulations from the EU. This is sometimes referred to as unnecessary “red tape” but the fact is that the number of workplace accidents has reduced significantly as a result of developments in the law throughout the whole of the 20th century. The proposed change to Section 47(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 would in fact take the law back to where it was pre-1898. In that year, the case of Groves –v- Lord Wimborne established the principle that an employer could be liable for breaching a statutory duty to his employee. Ever since, it has been clear that if you, as an injured worker, can show your employer has breached health and safety regulations, you have a right to be compensated.
If the amendment becomes law, the onus will no longer be on employers to show that they complied with health and safety regulations in the circumstances; instead, it will be up to you, the injured worker, to prove that your employer was negligent. In a nutshell, it will become more difficult to claim successfully for compensation arising from an accident at work. It is estimated that over 5,000 Scottish cases could be affected.
Lord McKenzie, speaking during the House of Lords debate on Clause 61 on 14 January 2013, gave a good summary of the effect of the amendment in saying:
“The bottom line is that fewer injured employees will receive compensation. They, their families and indeed the state will pick up the consequences. Insurance companies will be the gainers. Justice will be denied. Let us bear in mind that the compensation is not some prize or bonus for an employee; it is compensation for injury suffered.”
We would like to think that any proposed change in the law which would overturn duties which have existed – and, to date, only been heightened – over the last hundred years would cause any reasonable person to wonder whether it really is a sensible move. The outcome will generate windfalls for the insurance industry and leave the state having to bear increased cost for medical care and other support which would currently be paid for through a successful claim on Employers’ Liability insurance.
There is still time to make your voice heard in opposition. Please consider signing the e-petition on the direct.gov.uk website. At least make yourself knowledgeable as to the issues, set out at the same link. We encourage you to oppose this backward step in society’s protection of workers – something which potentially affects all of us, either as an injured person or as one of their relatives.