Beth Thompson at Squire Patton Boggs gives a legal overview of the year so far including Grenfell, Building Safety Regulator Consultations, and the introduction of safe standing at football stadiums.
2022 Workplace Fatality Figures Published
The HSE published its 2021/22 workplace fatality figures on 6 July, showing that 123 workers died in work-related accidents in the UK between April 2021 and March 2022. The industries identified as having the most deaths were; construction (30); agriculture, forestry, and fishing (22); and manufacturing (22). The most common causes were falling from height and being struck by moving vehicles/objects. Whilst the statistics serve as an important reminder to businesses of the importance of safe systems of work, the HSE has reported a long-term downward trend in fatal accidents and that the UK is one of the safest countries in the world to work.
The Introduction of Safe Standing Football Stadiums
In July, the Government announced that for the 2022/23 season, Premier League and Championship football clubs may introduce licensed “safe standing” areas at their stadiums, allowing fans to stand in allocated spaces behind barriers/rails in areas of persistent standing. Standing areas were previously banned following Lord Justice Taylor’s report into Hillsborough, however, a report by the Sports Ground Safety Authority last year concluded such areas delivered a positive impact on spectator safety. Many clubs have since confirmed that they will adopt safe standing, including those with some of the largest UK stadiums, such as Tottenham, Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea.
Post-Grenfell Tower update
The Building Safety Act 2022 received Royal Assent in late April, however, only certain provisions have come into force, including those relating to defective construction products, the extension of limitation periods for claims under the Defective Premises Act 1972, Liability Orders, and architects’ disciplinary matters. The remainder ancillary regulations are set to come into force within the next 18 months. The Act and regulations introduce a new regime of building and fire safety.
Earlier this year, the High Court determined that a building contractor must pay £10.8 million in damages towards the cost of investigating, removing, and replacing unsafe cladding in respect of 4 residential tower blocks on which it carried out installation works. Whilst the case was decided prior to the Act receiving Royal Assent, it creates a precedent that is likely to be used in similar high-profile claims relating to combustible cladding, following the Grenfell Tower disaster and the enactment of the Act and ancillary regulations.
Building Safety Regulator (“BSR”) Consultations
From April 2023, the HSE will be operating as part of the BSR and, as such, has called for views on the proposed operational standards rules (“OSRs”) that it is developing for building control bodies. The consultation will also look at BSR monitoring arrangements, including reportable data and KPIs for building control bodies. The HSE intend to finalise and launch their proposals by spring 2023.
Separately, the BSR has consulted on the proposals for the Building Safety (Fees and Charges) Regulations and an underpinning charging scheme, with the proposals set to be finalised and launched in April 2023. It is proposed that the BSR will be able to use cost recovery to source its funding under the Regulations. As a result, it is intended that the BSR will charge fees and recover charges for, or in connection with, carrying out its relevant function. This includes recovery of any expenses or costs incurred by the relevant authority or appointed third party as a result of any required action needed to comply with a BSR request for assistance.
Coronial Law and Practice update
The Chief Coroner has recently produced a new Guidance (No.44) note on disclosure to interested persons and procuring disclosure from information providers in inquests. It acts a reminder that disclosure and obtaining evidence is a judicial function and should only be for relevant and proportionate evidence. It also highlights that the Coroner has powers under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to compel interested persons to disclose information.
Section 85A of the Courts Act 2003 and the Remote Observation and Recording (Courts and Tribunals) Regulations 2022 (“Regulations”) came into force in June 2022. The provisions now permit the remote observation of proceedings in any Court or Tribunal (including the Coroner’s Court). The Chief Coroner also updated the Guidance (No.42) on remote hearings, which outlines the Coroner’s obligations under the Regulations to consider whether: such arrangements are in the interests of justice; the capacity and technological capability to enable it; and that it would not create an unreasonable administrative burden, when deciding upon an application to observe remotely.
Inquests in Writing and Rule 23 Evidence
In June 2022, the Chief Coroner published new Guidance (No.29) outlining the new rules allowing inquests to be held in writing through a new Section 9C inserted into the Coroner’s and Justice Act 2009. In determining whether an inquest can be held in writing, the Coroner must consider whether: they need to invite representations from each interested person; no-one represents on reasonable grounds that a hearing should take place; there is no real prospect of disagreement as to the inquest’s determinations or findings; and that no public interest would be served by holding a hearing.
Beth Thompson is an associate in Environmental, Safety & Health Practice at Squire Patton Boggs, focusing mainly on corporate defence, acting for companies and individuals facing criminal and regulatory proceedings following serious and fatal incidents.
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