If you are injured at work, and your boss has broken relevant health and safety regulations, then you can sue and win compensation. Soon you won’t be able to, or you may not be able.
New legislation is now already halfway through the House of Lords, propelled not by a Bullingdon Club Tory but by the allegedly saintly Lib Dem Vince Cable.
It opens the way for the boss to plead either that your injury was not a foreseeable result of his breach of regulations, or that it was beyond “reasonable practicability” for him to obey the regulations strictly.
You will have to show not only that the boss broke the regulations, but that your injury arose specifically from the boss being “negligent” about the regulations.
In the House of Commons Labour opposed the new clause — section 61 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill — but lost the vote. Now some trade unions have picked up on it. Solidarity found out from publicity within the rail union RMT.
It is not too late to stop the legal changes, if unions and the Labour Party mobilise.
The health and safety regulations remain. The bosses’ duty in criminal law to observe those regulations remains. But the understaffed Health and Safety Executive brings very few criminal cases. It brings about 1000 a year, while there are 78,000 legal cases a year of workers seeking civil redress for injuries at work, i.e. not trying to get the boss ruled criminally guilty “beyond reasonable doubt”, but to get compensation from the boss on a judgement of “balance of probabilities”.
Section 61 of the new Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill does not directly change the law on suing your boss over his breach of safety regulations.
It empowers the government minister to make regulations about regulations, i.e. to set out rules saying when you can claim compensation for your boss breaching health and safety regulations.
Guidance published by the government says that the regulations will allow for claiming compensation only “where an employer has been shown to be negligent”.
A junior minister told Parliament: “those [bosses] who have taken all reasonable precautions cannot be prosecuted for a technical breach”. So a boss can plead that, even though a measure would reduce risks of workplace injury, he should be excused doing it because its cost is “grossly disproportionate” to the reduction in risk.
Labour lawyers Thompsons say this change would take legal protection against workplace injuries back to what it was before 1898.
The change can be fought if unions mobilise to compel the Government not to bring section 61 into force, or to make new regulations without the planned loopholes; and if unions insist that Labour commit itself publicly to closing any loopholes which are introduced.