I write with reference to the government’s latest move in its overhaul of health and safety legislation.
At the last minute, the proposal to remove strict liability in respect of duties imposed on employers under health and safety legislation has been slipped into the Enterprise Regulatory Reform Bill, without public consultation and in the face of staunch opposition.
It is deeply ironic that the coalition seems determined to water down the health and safety legislation, given that it was David Cameron’s Conservative predecessors who enacted the Factory Act of 1901 under Lord Salisbury. Moreover, it was a Conservative government that enacted the Health and Safety Act 1974.
The existence of strict liability for health and safety at work must be defended rather than undermined, but the result of this amendment is to make it harder for injured employees to receive legitimate compensation. Employees will now have to fall back on proving the more nebulous concept of negligence under the common law. Together with the removal of legal aid, this latest attack smacks of the government’s readiness to erect barriers to access to justice for the most vulnerable in our society, while highlighting its willingness to pander to the demands of the heavyweights, most notably the insurance industry. The likely unintended consequence is that more employees will join trade unions so as to gain access to support to sue their employers.
Stephen Lloyd, senior partner, Bates Wells & Braithwaite, London EC4