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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Turning the safety clock back


Most readers will be familiar with the attack on workers rights in the UK government's Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act. Less well known is an attempt to further undermine health and safety on top of cuts in the HSE and other measures. These have been sneaked in, without public consultation, in a Bill that has been before Parliament since last May.

The amendments proposed in S61 of the Act will stop people who are injured at work from relying on health and safety regulations that exist to protect them. It will overturn law in place since 1898 and will result in the end of employers being automatically liable to pay compensation in limited circumstances where there is really no excuse. These are the so called strict liability cases where, say, an employer failed to adequately guard a machine and someone suffered a traumatic amputation. The government has produced no evidence to justify the end of strict liability. It has instead misquoted a review of health and safety law by Professor Ragnar Lofstëd.

Equally importantly they are ending employees being able to rely on or refer to a breach of health and safety regulations within a claim for compensation: “the law says you should have done this and you didn’t”. In future the worker injured through no fault of their own will have to prove foreseeability – i.e. that the employer knew or ought to have known that a machine was unsafe. Requiring injured workers to prove that, for example, the machine that injured them was foreseeably hazardous is loading the dice against them when most machinery today is complex and there can be any number of reasons why it goes wrong. It could be down to the employer, the manufacturer, the service company or anyone who has modified it. The employer is based placed to spread the risk and does this through compulsory employers' liability insurance.

There are only about 1,000 criminal prosecutions a year by the HSE compared to 78,000 civil claims for compensation following accidents at work. By removing civil liability the government is undermining the only effective enforcement of health and safety regulations in 98.7% of cases.

These amendments fly in the face of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, the EU’s Framework Directive3 and consequent Health and Safety regulations. However, they are consistent with the ConDem coalition's clear intention to undermine health and safety. We did not vote to die at work.

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