A somewhat shocking last minute clause has been added to The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill without public consultation which would essentially remove a basic right of injured workers.
The clause which seems to have slipped under the media’s attention would remove employees’ rights to claim compensation for a breach of health and safety law. This is a right which has been in place since 1898 – for 114 years – and many say would be a move back to times when death and injury rates in the workplace didn’t’ matter so long as the profits kept coming in.
At present, the law provides employees with an automatic right to claim compensation where their employer has breached health and safety regulations, for example, where the employer has failed to guard a dangerous machine, which has resulted in injury. The burden here is with the employer to demonstrate that they have not breached their duty under the regulations. However, if the changes are made, employees will no longer have this right and will only be able to rely on proving that their employer was negligent.
One of the most critical ramifications of this relates to the difficulties that would face an employee in trying to establish that their employer had been negligent. In order for them to try and prove the negligence, for example that the system of work or work equipment was inadequate, they would need information, knowledge and documents which are in the control of the employer to do so. So unless, the employer agrees to hand these over, the employee will be at a significant disadvantage and unable to prove their claim. The only likely source of evidence will be by paying for a relevant expert to prepare a report but the expense of this would make it difficult to obtain. The employee could therefore be left in a position whereby they will be unable to take legal action.
The concern does not only extend to the concern that employees will no longer be able to claim compensation for injuries sustained at work but that this change could also ultimately effect the taxpayer. The current system allows for the Government to recoup any benefits paid to victims of accidents at work and the cost of medical treatment provided by the NHS from the Defendant’s insurer in successful claims. If employees are no longer making claims for accidents at work, the Government will no longer be able to recoup this money and it will all come straight from the taxpayers’ pocket. For those who are injured so seriously that they are unable to return to work, or for the families of those who don’t return from work one day, the cost of supporting them will again fall to the taxpayer.
At the second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords, Lord Marland asked whether the Government thought that they were sending the right message to employers about health and safety by proposing these changes and the answer has to be no. If these changes are implemented, we will see employees’ rights for a safe place of work return to that of Victorian times when safety comes last.
Contact Harris Fowler now to start your claim for compensation to protect your right to claim compensation for an accident at work. Free and friendly legal advice is available on 0800 213 214 or visit www.harrisfowler.co.uk
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