The House of Lords have voted in favour of an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which removes civil liability for breaches of health and safety regulations.
Clause 61 of the Bill amends section 47 of the Health and Safety At Work Act by removing a right of action that has existed since 1898. This allowed employees and their dependants to claim damages for injuries if they could show that the employer had breached a statutory duty.
Once the Bill receives royal assent they will face the burden of proving negligence, as their employer will no longer be automatically liable to pay them compensation.
The clause had earlier been narrowly rejected by peers but was reinserted by MPs and passed by the Lords when it returned there.
Government peers argued that the reform was designed to address the “perception of a compensation culture and the fear of being sued that this generates”, although they provided no evidence to back their claim.
Crossbench peer Lord Hardie pointed out that “the undisputed effect of Clause 61 [is] that it will deprive some people of any remedy for injury caused to them or their deceased relatives.
“... some people who have suffered catastrophic injuries, or the families of employees who have been killed, will be forced to depend upon state benefits rather than receive compensation reflecting past and future loss of wages and any special needs resulting from their injuries.
“The financial burden will thus be shared between widowers, children, the permanently disabled and the state and transferred from insurance companies, which will be the principal beneficiaries of this clause. This is manifestly unjust when the cause of the injury will have been the employer's breach of statutory regulations, which are designed to protect employees from injury or death”.
The change follows a review of health and safety law by Professor Ragnar Lofstedt in 2011 who, contrary to the government’s assertions, did not recommend repealing the law in the way that has been done. Instead he referred to ending civil liability but only in relation to strict liability provisions and only if ending strict liability for those provisions was not possible.
Tom Jones, head of policy and public affairs at Thompsons Solicitors said: “This amendment, which was originally defeated in the House of Lords, will reverse the decline in deaths and major injuries in the UK with all its social and economic ramifications. This is a green light to employers to sidestep regulations specifically created to protect the health and safety of workers.
Read Thompsons' reaction in full.