I don’t normally go into legal arguments and intricacies in this blog, but I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about a piece of sharp practice that the government is trying to get away with. Let me share my annoyance with you.
The coalition government has been very sneaky. In a last minute amendment to The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill they have tucked away something that will aim to undo workplace safety laws that have been in place for over 100 years if it becomes law. Anyone injured in an accident at work could find it harder to succeed in a claim for compensation as a result of this little change, unless peers in the House of Lords kick out the proposed amendment.
In a court case dating back to 1898 it was established that legislation aimed at protecting people in the workplace would give rise to a claim for breach of statutory duty if it was not followed by employers. Put very simply, this means that if the boss breaks workplace safety laws and you are hurt, you are given a very powerful argument to help you in claiming compensation because you can say the boss has breached his statutory duty. The 1898 case was later codified under health and safety acts of parliament. In other words, this area of law is all rock solid, written in stone and everyone has known where they stand on this for a very long period of time.
Now the coalition wants to water this all down, incredibly, by simply adding the word “not”, so that the law is changed to read, “breach of duty shall not be actionable”. That’s a very sneaky “not”, is it not?
So what is this all about?
Short answer – red tape, says the coalition. With a bonfire of laws and other impediments they want to free up businesses to have more time to spend on succeeding in their business and less on administration and red tape.
I probably agree with that aim overall, as long as the most important boats aren’t burnt.
In amongst these “impediments” and “hindrances” to businesses are health and safety laws. They are, the coalition says (my interpretation), a bit inconvenient, time consuming and troublesome. Pesky health and safety laws. That’s where I disagree with them massively. Those settled health and safety laws are there and were developed to stop powerful and feckless employers from exposing employees to unnecessary dangers in the workplace. They are there to look after the little guy. We’re talking about peoples’ lives and health here. Important stuff!
The government then decided to get a secret weapon: a report into health and safety legislation that it hopes will help it to ditch inconvenient health and safety laws. However, most inconveniently, in that report (the Lofstedt Report) Professor Lofstedt himself said,
“I have concluded that, in general, there is no case for radically altering health and safety legislation”. End of.
Damn! Think the coalition. Oh well, we’re going to go ahead and water it all down anyway. Let’s see if anyone notices. That’s exactly what Business Minister Matthew Hancock MP is now doing with this dirty little amendment.
Even if it does go through, and there will be a right barney over it now, it doesn’t mean workplace compensation claims won’t win or can’t be brought. There are other arguments and means to bring them, but it will make it more difficult and it seems like an attack on innocent working people.
That’s all for now.