Private Eye on the Coalition’s Attempt to Make Prosecutions for Industrial Accident More Difficult

Private Eye ran this piece in their issue for 3rd – 16th May 2013. I’m fairly certain Mike over at Vox Political also covered it at the time, so its might be worth going over to his blog and looking at through the posts for that time for more information.

Insult to Injury

David Cameron won applause from the Daily Mail in January last year when he promised “to kill the health and safety culture”. Move on to Spring 2013, and we can see what his pledge means: the coalition is to slash compensation payments to injured employees and the families of dead workers, which have existed since the 19th century.

In a sly manoeuvre, the Tories and Liberal Democrats waited until their Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill had passed the scrutiny of a Commons committee, the slipped in a clause to make it harder for injured men and widowed women (or vice versa) to sue. Henceforth, the coalition told the House of Lords late at night when no one was watching, the burden of proving what caused an accident will fall on the injured worker or the family of the dead.

Peers, who have little experience of the dangers of construction, mining or hands-on agriculture, approved the measure. When the coalition abolished the Agricultural Wages Board it rigged the consultation process (Eyes passim) – but with civil liability for health and safety at work, it topped that dismal achievement and allowed no public consultation whatsoever.

Health and safety inspectors will still be able to prosecute. But as Tom Jones, of Thompsons solicitors said, there are 78,000 civil claims for compensation following accidents at work every year, but only 1,000 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) criminal prosecutions. This change will restrict enforcement in 98.7 per cent of health and safety breaches.

Thompsons represents trade unions, and its numbers may be biased, but even according to the government’s own figures, the “reform” will affect 70,000 cases a year. That’s an awful lot of dead and injured workers.

Lord Hardie, a former Lord Advocate of Scotland, told the Lords: “If this clause remains part of the bill, those who have suffered catastrophic injury, or the widows and families of employees who have been killed, will now have to depend upon state benefits for their maintenance. The financial burden will be transferred to widows, children, disabled people, and to the state. Insurance companies will be the principal beneficiaries”.

The government was not attacking some faddish, modern ‘elf and safety culture. Hardie continued, but a right to swift compensation that goes back to an 1898 court of appeal ruling in England and Wales, and an 1871 decision by Scottish judges. Since then, the law has accepted that all an employee has to prove is that they suffered in a dangerous workplace.

No more, Jones told the Eye. In the past, if you lost a hand in a piece of machinery, you only needed to show that the machine had a faulty guard. No you will have to prove that the employer knew the guard needed replacing or ought to have known. This is a much harder task, made harder still by the government’s cuts to legal aid. In future, insurance companies will be able to spin out a case until the employee’s solicitor has spent the £900 allocated to accidents at work. They will then be able to compel the worker to accept a lower settlement or nothing at all.

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One Response to “Private Eye on the Coalition’s Attempt to Make Prosecutions for Industrial Accident More Difficult”

  1. 61chrissterry Says:

    Reblogged this on 61chrissterry and commented:
    Is this Justice?

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