Home >The Government reintroduces its strict liability proposal

The Government reintroduces its strict liability proposal

09 May 2013

Despite the House of Lords blocking the plans last month, the Government has reintroduced a proposal to reform the civil-compensation regime by removing strict liability for certain health and safety breaches.

On 16 April, a number of amendments from the Lords to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill were debated.

Business minister, Jo Swinson, told the House of Commons: '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 added: '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.'

In conclusion, Ms Swinson said: '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 that the reintroduction of the proposal would "force injured employees to face a near-impossible evidential burden in respect of employers' liability".

'This is not business as usual," he added. "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 was in agreement with Chuka Umunna. He pointed out that there are currently 78,000 civil claims for injuries in the workplace every year, compared with around 1,000 health and safety prosecutions.

He explained that the amendment would create a singular reliance on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) doing a better job than it does now, which he says is an unlikely prospect given the resources currently at its disposal.

He said: '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.'

In advance of the debate, the Forum of Private Business claimed that removing the strict liability on employers would be a shift towards common sense in the workplace, allowing employers to fulfil the basic requirements of health and safety law without worrying of potential, unforeseen claims against them.

A spokesperson said: "While small businesses understand their responsibilities under the law when it comes to health and safety, they feel not enough recognition is given to the need for employees to share that responsibility.

"Removing strict liability will reduce over compliance and reduce company costs, which will benefit their growth potential.

'It would also recognise the lengths that businesses already go to in order to protect employees. After all, it is in their best interests to ensure a safe workplace.'

The Commons received 316 votes against the Lords' amendments, which proposed a further review of strict liability in line with a recommendation by Professor Lšfstedt, and 241 in favour.

A Committee has been appointed to draw up reasons as to why there is disagreement with the Lords' amendments and these will be reported to the Lords, who are due to debate the Bill on Monday 22 April.