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It's the Little Things...

It's the Little Things...

On 1 October 2013 a small change will be made in the law which is likely to have a big impact on accident claims.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 was amended to prevent an employee relying on an employer’s breach of health and safety regulations as a basis for a successful damages claim.  Although a breach of the Act itself has never given rise to a right to recover damages (it creates criminal liability only) a breach of one of the subordinate regulations did create a right to civil damages.  Since in some cases the regulations create duties of strict liability this has allowed claims to succeed in cases where the employer has not been at fault.  The amendment, which effectively adds the word “not” to the relevant section, has changed that.  Now employees must raise a claim under the common law which requires them to prove negligence or fault on the part of the employer.

It is believed by the Government that this amendment will help to tackle the “compensation culture” of recent years by reducing the number of claims and subsequently the level of insurance premiums.  The change has been criticised by the Unions who have described it as “Return of the Dark Satanic Mills: The End of Civil Liability in Health and Safety”  and “Compensation move puts ideology over justice”.  Whether the amendment will make a significant difference to the volume of claims remains to be seen.  On one view it may complicate and prolong settlement negotiations leading to more claims being litigated.

It is important to note that criminal liability for breaches of health and safety legislation is unaltered by this amendment.  Employers must still comply with the duties imposed by the regulations and may face criminal sanctions in the event of a breach.  There has been no relaxation of the safety standards expected of employers.  It simply means that in some instances a criminal penalty can be imposed in circumstances where a civil damages claim would not succeed.

If you have any queries, big or small, about health and safety law the HSE team at Burness Paull are here to help - just give us a call.

Ashok Rebello

Burness admin