The House of Lords has backed down over government plans to make it more difficult to sue employers for health and safety breaches at work.

Peers were forced to vote for a second time last night on the aspect of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill that removes the principle of civil liability and forces claimants to prove negligence if they want to claim compensation.

The Lords previously opposed the government on the issue, but proposals returned to the upper house after a vote in the Commons last week.

This time, in a vote held after 11pm yesterday, the Lords backed down by 170 votes to 112.

Business minister Viscount Younger of Leckie said workers had a duty to prove there was negligence if their claim was to be successful.

He said: ‘This reform is not about reducing the number of claims made, but about establishing the important principle that employers should always have the opportunity to defend themselves against a compensation claim when they have done nothing wrong and have taken all reasonable precautions to protect their employees.’

He added that lifting civil liability duties from employers would give them the reassurance and confidence to expand their businesses into new areas and take on new employees.

Conservative peer and QC Lord Faulks said opponents’ arguments in the Commons had been ‘riddled with hyperbole’. He argued the bill will help remove the perception of a compensation culture.

He added: ‘This cannot be dismissed on the basis that to respond to it is simply to pander to myths. There is a strongly negative effect on employers and indeed on schools and local authorities which feel the need to set up elaborate systems to combat largely hypothetical risks.

The government moved to remove civil liability as a late addition (clause 61) to the Enterprise Bill and it has been fiercely opposed by personal injury lawyers and the Labour opposition.

Labour peer Lord McKenzie of Luton told the chamber the government was ‘undermining the cause of health and safety’.

‘The government's position is untenable,’ he said. ‘It is changing the settled legal position of over a century on the basis of anecdote and perceptions. It is making it harder, sometimes impossible, for employees to access justice when they are injured at work.’

The Lords vote was the final word on clause 61 and it will come into law when the bill receives royal assent.