Guest post from accident claims solicitors
According to the latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), accidents at work are on a downward slide.
Employers reported 114,000 injuries to workers in 2011/2012, of which nearly 24,000 were classed as serious. Sadly, 173 workers were fatally injured at work in the same period.
In an ideal world there would be no deaths or serious injuries at work, but the good news is that workplace accidents are steadily reducing. According to the HSE, there was an annual average of 196 worker fatalities from 2006/07 to 2010/11, and the number of workplace accident claims reported by employers has fallen in nine of the last ten years. It seems that, as far as workplace accidents are concerned, we are at least heading in the right direction.
But according to experts in accident law, that might not be the case for much longer. They say that Government proposals to make claims against employers for injury at work more difficult could reverse the downward trend of workplace accidents.
The new clause will amend the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, transferring the burden of proof when workplace injury occurs from employer to employee. The amendment would remove “strict liability”, meaning a worker would have to prove that his employer had been negligent to have any chance of a successful compensation claim.
In other words, an employer can breach health and safety guidelines and an injured worker would have no automatic right to compensation. Instead, he would have to prove that his employer had also been negligent.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) says the amendment, if passed, “will put the health and safety clock back to Victorian times.”
APIL also believes the amendment will lead to scores of injured workers losing valid claims, passing the financial burden for their care from their employer to the state. It estimates that 70,000 cases could be affected in England, Scotland and Wales.
Stuart Kightley, head of accident claims at Osbornes Solicitors in London, believes the amendment will damage the UK’s health and safety record, and potentially put workers’ health at risk.
“As a result of successful compensation claims, in our view, health and safety standards are generally pretty good in this country,” says Kightley. “If they are relaxed, so that we fall back on simple negligence, then cases will be harder to prove.”
Not only does that mean workers with valid claims losing out on compensation, it also undermines an important foundation of our health and safety culture. For that reason, specialists like Osbornes would urge the Government to think again.