What do changes to the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 mean?

by Thompsons Solicitors on November 16, 2012

Under current law workers are afforded protections from workplace accidents by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which applies to the whole of the UK. If an employer is found to be in breach of these regulations and someone has been injured as a result, that person has an automatic right to claim compensation. However this right may be about to disappear entirely as a further amendment was slipped quietly into the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill during its third reading in the House of Commons.

Section 47(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is to be amended to read ‘Breach of duty imposed by a statutory instrument containing (whether alone or with other provision) health and safety regulations shall not be actionable except to the extent that regulations under this section so provide.’ This amendment is another example of the Coalition Government hacking away at health and safety protections for workers and trying to do so without criticism. This amendment was accompanied by no press release or media coverage and was voted through by 295 to 215.

This change weakens current employment protections and will make some cases more expensive and time consuming to deal with. The change comes as the Government also announces attempts to water down the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). These regulations oblige employers to report certain accidents, injuries and diseases to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who maintain a database of accidents and have the power to investigate a workplace if it sees fit. Reducing the obligations upon employers to report incidents to the HSE opens the floodgates to allow dangerous practices within workplaces to go undetected endangering employees safety. If these changes are confirmed then it will make reporting of accidents by employees to their employers and to their union representatives even more essential to ensure that bad practices are highlighted and put a stop to.

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