Leading Injury Lawyer Calls For Rethink On Removal Of Strict Liability In Work Accident Claims

Addition Of New Clause In Government Bill ‘Needs Full And Proper Attention’

07.12.2012

Serious injury lawyers have urged the Government to urgently re-examine a new clause added to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which would make it increasingly difficult for those hurt in work accidents to gain justice over their injuries.

Under current laws, which have been protecting workers for over a century, employers are held responsible for any incident in which workers are seriously injured and it is proven they have breached health and safety regulations.

However, the new Clause 14 added to the bill at the last minute, and designed to free businesses from some burden of red tape, would remove the ability of employees injured in accidents at work to rely on a breach of Health and Safety Regulations, even where that breach had resulted in the employer being convicted of a criminal offence.

Leading workplace injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell say this could leave a large number of people in an impossible position, as victims of injury may not be able to easily access information and evidence required to prove employers were at fault by establishing that they were negligent.

The national law firm is extremely concerned that the changes could have significant implications for victims, who may not be able to gain justice even if their employer is in the wrong.

David Urpeth, national head of workplace injury at Irwin Mitchell, explained: “This proposed change to remove the ability of injured workers to rely on a breach of regulations in a claim for damages is a significant one which could impact on a huge number of workers, yet it was added at a late stage in the House of Commons.

This rightly raises concerns that it has not been given the full attention it deserves. It goes far beyond the steps that the government had said it was proposing to take, which were to review the small number of regulations that impose a strict liability on the employers that means they are liable even when it cannot be shown that they were negligent or at fault.”

“By removing the employees ability to rely on breach of regulations by the employer generally through a clause seemingly placed into the bill at the eleventh hour, injured workers would have to prove negligence on the part of their employers to access compensation. This is even if a breach of regulations has already been proven through criminal procedures.

“A number of commentators have pointed out that this raises difficult issues for victims who may not be able to access all of the evidence they need to prove negligence in the civil courts, as it may be in the possession of the employer.

“Question marks should be raised as to whether this is also really a move which will lift any burden from businesses, as ultimately they would not handle the claims that do arise when victims are injured. Employers are required by law to carry insurance to cover claims from employees injured at work and those claims will be dealt with by their insurers.”

David added: “We have on several occasions outlined our support for the Government’s rethink of health and safety to ensure that businesses are not stifled by any regulations which are deemed over-zealous, but warned that plenty of care needs to be taken to ensure that workers still have vital protection.

“The change will lead to a dilution of the standard of safety in workplaces. In practice few prosecutions occur for breach of health and safety regulations. The threat of litigation as a result of failing to comply with regulations is what encourages employers – and their insurers – to ensure compliance and the maintenance of high standards of safety at work.

“This change is a bold and heavy-handed move which could leave many people injured through no fault of their own unable to get the justice and answers that they deserve. It could also result in more injured workers being left reliant on benefits at significant cost to the taxpayer.

“Because of all of these reasons, it is absolutely imperative that the House of Lords picks apart the massive implications of this issue and ultimately ensure that the best interests of both business and their staff are served in this bill.”