Strict-liability proposal could amount to “nationalisation of rehabilitation”
The Government has reintroduced a proposal to reform the civil-compensation regime by removing strict liability for certain health and safety breaches, despite the House of Lords blocking the plans last month.
Debating a number of amendments from the Lords to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill yesterday (16 April), Business minister Jo Swinson MP told the Commons that the Government’s plans are an “important element of [its] wider health and safety reforms to tackle both the perception of a compensation culture and the damaging effect that this has on both sensible health and safety management and on business growth, and these are concerns consistently reported by business”.
She continued: “The Government doesn’t believe that it’s justifiable to hold employers liable for incidents outside of their control, which they could not have reasonably prevented.”
She reiterated a view expressed by Viscount Younger of Leckie, during the House of Lords debate in March, that the modern framework of law and supporting guidance place employees in a much better position than they have been, historically, to demonstrate whether their employer is at fault for their injuries.
Concluded Ms Swinson: “This reform will mean that, in future, there will be a consistent approach to civil litigation across all health and safety legislation. This is simpler for all to understand and will therefore have a greater impact in increasing employers’ confidence to do the right thing to protect their employees and develop and grow their business.”
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said the reintroduced proposal would have the effect of overturning an accepted and established regime for health and safety that has survived for more than a century.
“It would force injured employees to face a near-impossible evidential burden in respect of employers’ liability,” he explained.
“This is not business as usual. The beneficiaries of this will be providers of employers’ liability insurance. The losers will include taxpayers, because reduced compensation will reduce benefit recovery.”
Andy McDonald MP agreed, pointing out that there are currently 78,000 civil claims for injuries in the workplace every year compared with around 1000 health and safety prosecutions. The amendment, he explained, would create a singular reliance on the HSE doing a better job than it does now – an unlikely prospect, given the resources currently at its disposal.
Describing the proposal as “the nationalisation of rehabilitation”, he said injured people unable to access compensation would instead turn to the statutory services.
“Are the Government serious about nationalising rehabilitation and giving the bill to the taxpayer while letting the insurers off the hook? Insurers are rubbing their hands in glee at these proposals, and it is about time that this Government woke up. It will cost this country a fortune if they proceed in this way.”
Commenting in advance of the debate, the Forum of Private Business said the fear of a ‘compensation culture’ is costing small businesses.
A spokesperson said: “For years, small businesses have been over-compliant with health and safety, at enormous cost. This is because of the fear of the ‘claims culture’, as well as private-sector consultants who encourage clients to go above and beyond health and safety requirements in law.
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