Health and safety automatic civil liability to end as House of Lords accepts Government's plans

Out-Law News | 24 Apr 2013 | 4:29 pm | 1 min. read

The House of Lords has approved Government plans to prevent companies from being automatically liable for some workplace injuries after a second vote on the issue.

Peers had previously rejected the proposal, which is part of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. However, the changes to health and safety law were reinstated by the House of Commons last week.

The change will result in the removal of the 'strict liability' regime that makes companies automatically liable for some workplace injuries, regardless of fault. Once in force, individuals will have to be able to prove negligence on the part of the company before being able to pursue a claim.

Removing strict liability for civil damages under some existing health and safety regulations was one of a number of recommendations made by Professor Ragnar Löfsted of King's College London in his 2011 independent review of health and safety laws. The Health and Safety at Work Act currently imposes civil liability for breaches of statutory duty in relation to health and safety regulations regardless of whether a business did anything to cause the breach or acted negligently.

During a debate in the House of Lords, Viscount Younger said that change was one of a number of reforms to "address the much wider issue of the perception of a compensation culture and the fear of being sued that this generates".

"It is because of this wider context and its detrimental effect that the Government remain of the view that it is not reasonable or fair that employers should be held liable to pay compensation when they have done nothing wrong and taken all reasonable steps to protect their employees," he said.

"To be clear and to avoid any misunderstanding that may have arisen, this measure does not undermine core health and safety standards. The Government are committed to maintaining and building on the UK's strong health and safety record. The codified framework of requirements, responsibilities and duties placed on employers to protect their employees from harm are unchanged, and will remain relevant as evidence of the standards expected of employees in future civil claims for negligence," he said.

Lord Hardie, opposing, said that ending civil liability would "deprive some people of any remedy" for injuries sustained at work, or for the death of a relative.

"The case for this radical provision has not been made out," he said. "Without such justification, we should not sanction the removal of long-established rights of action by injured employees or the families of deceased employees."