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Opposition warns that health and safety duties could be set back by the removal of strict liability
Posted by David Cant on November 19, 2012

The Bill for Enterprise and Regulatory Reforms which includes a proposed amendment to civil liability laws concerning health and safety duties is currently being tabled in Parliament.

The House of Commons held a debate earlier this week concerning this Bill which provides for a wide range of amendments to the regime of business regulations. The House of Lords will now consider the Bill.

Health and Safety Duties

During the debate held this week, a clause to amend the HSWA 1974 was successfully forced by the Government. The clause removes the right to file civil claims when statutory duty is breached in some health and safety legislation. The Government’s commitment to lessen the health and safety perceived burden is fulfilled by the proposal, in line with the recommendations of the Lofstedt report.

While introducing the clause, Matthew Hancock, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills said that Prof Lofstedt outlined the inequality that can come up when regulations for health and safety impose on employers a strict duty that leaves them liable to make a compensation to workers hurt or made sick by their job, despite all reasonable steps to protect them against injury having been taken.

He continued by giving an example that employers can be held legally responsible for damages when an employee is injured through equipment failure, even when the equipment was rigorously examined and no defect was detected. He added that the new clause will address that among other unfair consequences of the present health and safety system.

The outcome of ensuring that employers who take reasonable precautions will not be sued for a mechanical breach will be to decrease the impression that numerous firms are answerable to health and safety legislation, especially small businesses, when they are not, in many instances.

The proposal was slammed by some Labour MPs who insisted that the Government tried to push through the amendment without having conducted any proper consultation, impact evaluation or research.

The proposal was described by the MP for Iain Wright as another instance of ministers in the hunt to water down civil restoration based on anecdote, perception and ideology. The MP referred to Mr. Hancock as “the Mike Yarwood of the House of Commons”.

The minister was also urged by the MP to think about allowing employers to take legal action against third parties, for example manufacturers or suppliers of goods that are potentially defective, in instances where the employer or the worker is at fault.

David Anderson, the Labour MP, proceeded with the “perceptions” theme when he suggested that the Bill will generate a new impression that every bet is off, that employers may not be concerned about health and safety, and that people can act as they wish provided that they believe it is reasonable.

Julie Hilling, an Opposition MP warned that the Bill could reverse the improvement years in the number of deaths and injuries related to work as well making things worse when it comes to conditions that cause long-term health problems, for instance the repetitive strain injury.

While defending the proposal, Andrew Bridgen, a Conservative MP attacked Labour MPs for declining to consider the financial consequences that could arise when a perception is made that safety and health is onerous and restrictive. He added that the MPs seemed to believe that no cost will be incurred for being over compliant with the regulations. He said that there will be a cost to the economy as well as the Exchequer, which was important then. He added that another cost will be borne by the unemployed.

Mr. Hancock highlighted that the Lofstedt report was based on about 400 submissions of evidence from stakeholders. He also insisted employers did not make a distinction of measures concerning health and safety between civil and criminal basis.

The House was divided on the matter when the vote showed that 295 were in favour of the Bill while 215 were against. However, the clause was included in the Bill.


Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME's favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick.

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This post has been filed in: Construction health and safety, Health and Safety at Work, Health and Safety Law, Health and Safety Services, Workplace Health and Safety

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