Workers' rights on health and safety to be scaled down

Ministers want to cut red tape and end 'spurious' claims but unions are furious

Injured workers will be forced to prove that their employer was directly to blame for their accident before they are eligible for compensation under tough new legislation which critics allege will scale back workers' rights to those of "Victorian times".

Under proposals that Labour have claimed were "sneaked into Parliament", ministers are trying to amend health and safety laws to water down employers' liability for accidents and leave employees having to prove that their managers were negligent.

The Government claims the move will cut red tape, end the "unfairness" to companies in current health and safety legislation and stop them from having to pay out for "spurious" personal injury claims. But unions say the move will increase litigation costs, erode safety standards in the workplace and make it harder for workers to claim legitimate compensation.

Figures released this week by the Health and Safety Executive show that last year 173 people died as a result of workplace accidents and 22,433 were seriously injured.

The Government published a review this year of existing health and safety regulations conducted by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, director of the King's Centre for Risk Management at King's College, London.

Last month, it announced an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. The new Business minister, Matthew Hancock, told MPs this was based on Professor Löfstedt's recommendations and would remove the concept of "strict liability" – whereby companies are liable for injuries regardless of negligence if certain health and safety rules are breached.

"The fear of being sued drives businesses to exceed what is required by the criminal law, diverting them from focusing on sensible preventive health and safety management and resulting in unnecessary costs and burdens," he said.

However, the Löfstedt review did not call for the blanket removal of strict liability. Instead it called for a review of where strict liability was necessary. "These proposals were sneaked into [the Bill] at the last possible moment after the legislation had been through committee," said Labour's business spokesman Iain Wright.

Karl Tonks, head of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said the Government's proposals would "turn back the clock on workplace safety to the 19th century".

A spokesperson for the Department of Business denied that the changes would remove the right of individuals to bring a personal injury claim against their employer for negligence.

"Currently, most claims are brought for both breach of statutory duty and negligence. The change only affects those claims which rely on a technical breach where there is no evidence the employer was at fault," he said.

Case study: ‘I need the money. I could require more treatment’

Arek Kuchczynski, 32, won more than £100,000 after he was caught in an explosion in 2010 which also killed one man and injured four others on the fruit vegetable farm he works at near Taunton. The group of six were carrying out maintenance to a tank of compressed air when it exploded.

Since it would be difficult to prove beyond doubt that his actions did not contribute in any way to the accident, his case may not have been so straightforward under the new rules.

The Pole managed to make a tentative return to work and put most of the money aside as insurance.

It is not fair, it is not good. In my position, if something else happened, the pay-out I was given is what I would use to get by. If I hadn't won the money, I would worry about a time when I might not be able to work in the future, considering my injuries. When I first went back to work, I was only able to work for two or three hours per day. Since I am paid by the hour, some of that money went towards covering the losses. I would also use the money I saved if I needed to pay for more treatment in the future or if I lost my job.

Legislation: 180 years of 'elf and safety

After the 1833 Factories Act, the newly appointed factory inspectors exposed the bleakness of Victorian labour conditions. Children under 10 routinely crawled under moving machinery to free trapped threads or jammed parts. Often their fingers and limbs would be mangled. Many were crushed to death.

But the inspectors took their jobs seriously, and their remit was extended to cover all sorts of all workplaces. Early health and safety legislation was designed specifically to better the lot of children.

But 'Elf and Safety, as Richard Littlejohn at the Daily Mail has tirelessly campaigned to rechristen it, only entered the modern lexicon in 1974, with the 1974 Health and Safety at Work etc Act. From then on employers had to keep records of accidents in the workplace, and from 1981 provide first aid facilities. Laws regulating the treatment of those exposed to lead and asbestos followed. Then came similar laws relating to modified organisms, pesticides, radiation, excessive noise and carbon monoxide.

A 1992 act covered health and safety in the office. Guidelines were issued for computer screens, space, lighting and seating. Since then, attempts have been made to pare back the regulations. A 1994 review recommended 100 laws be removed, and in 2010 Lord Young published a review called "Common Sense – Common Safety".

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?