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21st Century Britain with 19th Century Health and Safety?

Section 47 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provided that breach of a duty imposed on an employer concerning health and safety in the workplace ( duties enforceable by the Health and Safety Executive through the criminal law) would be also be actionable by a claim for compensation if a person had suffered injury as a result. The main regulations dealing with safety in a workplace were brought in at the instigation of Europe in 1992 and 1998, though later regulations dealt with work at height and lifting equipment. The vast majority of these duties gave rise to a civil claim for injury compensation and some created “strict liability” claims, where an absolute and continuing safety duty was imposed. These laws operated to safeguard employees at work but could be relied upon also by visitors to a workplace since it could not really be said that different standards applied to different classes of person on a workplace premises.

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 seeks to attempt to turn health and safety law back to the nineteenth century because that is how far back one would have to go to find a comparable state of law to that which we have now.

Section 69, which came into force on the 1st October 2013, for accidents occurring on or after that date, writes a new section 47 into the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It is now stated that breach of a health and safety duty on an employer will not give rise to a personal injury claim unless regulations made under the section so provide. The Government intend that only negligent employers should have to pay out to a person making a personal injury claim.

However, certain classes of employees employed by the state (eg local Government and NHS) can claim the benefit of the old laws through the direct effect of European laws and it is questionable whether this change will have the effect desired by the Government ( apart from the effect of creating the impression that the present Coalition could not care less about the rights of the injured). If there is a safety standard a workplace should achieve, then any failure to attain that standard could well amount to negligence.

Furthermore, it is doubtful the Government has the legal power to erode over a century’s worth of laws assisting those bringing personal injury claims for accidents in the workplace. Europe may well bring them to account for that.

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