Are UK health and safety laws strict enough?
In the UK it is an employer’s duty to look after the health, safety and wellbeing of their workers. This responsibility means they must take all ‘reasonably practicable’ steps to ensure no harm befalls their staff or members of the public whilst carrying out their duties or on their premises.
The main laws that serve to enforce health and safety law in the UK are: The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (the Management Regulations).
As it stands today, employers must undertake risk assessments regularly and take all steps reasonable in order to limit injuries occurring at work. To ensure that employers carry these out they are open to random inspections of their property and audits by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), to check they are following these rules.
However, there is a growing consensus that these measures are too much of a burden to businesses and there has been noises coming from Westminster stating these rules will be relaxed. One of the ways they intend to do this is to reduce the number of inspections the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities have to carry out. In order to do that, they have proposed that ‘low-risk’ workplaces be exempt from inspections. This is designed to be a cost saving measure. Intended to save the authorities time and manpower on inspections and businesses from paying consultancy fees that are above what is actually necessary.
Another proposal is to remove the strict liability attached to some of the health and safety regulations. Strict liability in this instance is that an employer is automatically found guilty of breaching health and safety regulations if a certain incident happens. Removing the strict liability will mean that employers could be faced with the prospect of not having expensive legal fees to pay out following an accident at work.
Looking from the other side however, it means that workers who are injured at work and who will find it difficult to prove the employers liability will not receive compensation. The argument for this is that it removes the threat of being liable for health and safety claims when the employer has not acted negligently.
Where the Laws so Strict they Needed Changing?
There are arguments on both sides on this one. Employers argue that the strict liability enforced upon them was too onerous, especially when workers claimed compensation for injuries where the employer was not negligent at all. Employees argue that these rules provide compensation for their injuries and any time off work which may occur. A necessary insurance, it could be argued, especially in industries where risk of injury is greater.
Where there can be no doubt was the amount of red tape involved, especially in larger companies. There are a plethora of records to be kept and various regulations that must be followed, all in order to be compliant. Meaning some companies will have their own department in charge of health and safety and smaller companies will have to pay expensive consultant fees for the same.
Why the Change
As stated above, the main theme of this change is to save the government money, with figures suggesting that the Health and Safety Executive costs in excess of £2bn per year (see here http://www.britishchambers.org.uk/press-office/press-releases/moves-to-reduce-health-and-safety-red-tape-will-be-welcomed-by-business,-says-bcc.html#.UJwC2cUxq8w) . Another stated aim of the proposed changes to the regulations, which are due to begin in April 2013, is to protect businesses from ‘compensation culture’ claims.
How Will This Affect You?
Firstly, any workers that are injured at work will now need to prove that their employer was directly at fault for their accident. If they cannot do this then they will not be entitled to any compensation for their claim. This will in effect cut down on the number of spurious claims from people simply looking to make some money. However, it can be argued that for the majority this is a monumental scale back of their rights.
Obviously though, if you are injured at work and there is negligence involved then you should be able to claim compensation for your injuries. For more information in England why not talk to Nabarro, and in Scotland there is Brodies.
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