Unhappy 125th! Then (1897) and now (2012): Lords, workers and the right to compensation…

  Unhappy 125th! Then (1897) and now (2012): Lords, workers and the right to compensation...

 

125 years ago the House of Lords debated the Workmen’s Compensation Bill.

This week the Lords debated the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill.

If you are concerned about the erosion of UK health and safety regulations and this Government’s attack on the rights of injured people to claim compensation, you will find the following extracts from Hansard interesting…we certainly do. 

We have interspersed the statements made by the noble Lords for dramatic effect. The wording is unchanged from the original…

Those Victorians certainly knew a thing or two about enterprise AND worker’s rights…but judge for yourself as you guess the era when dogma deputised for debate.

 

This week…

Lord Marland, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Business Innovation and Skills.
Overly burdensome and obsolete rules stifle business. That is why we need to get rid of them wherever that is sensible. For example, it is currently the case that, where health and safety regulations impose a strict duty on employers, they can be liable to pay compensation, despite having done all that was reasonable to protect their employees.

To address this potential unfairness, the Bill will remove the right of individuals to make civil claims for breach of most statutory health and safety duties, unless it can be proved the employer has been negligent.

 

125 years ago…

Lord Belper. 

Anybody who made a statement of that sort could not be aware of the practical effect of the present law. 

There were numerous cases of accidents that occurred in dangerous employment where no negligence on the part of the employer could be proved, where the workman had not contributed in any way to the cause of the accident – cases which no human foresight had been able to get rid of, and which might be said to be necessarily inseparable from the dangerous employments in which they occurred.

He would venture to ask any noble Lord who had experience with regard to these dangerous employments whether there was not a strong moral obligation on the part of the employer to provide some compensation in many of these cases, and whether, on the other hand, there was not an equitable claim on the part of the workman to receive something to make good the injuries he had sustained in the employment in which he had taken part?

What might happen in the case of a workman, under the Bill proposed by Mr. Asquith, if he wished to recover compensation for the negligence of some fellow workman which had caused a serious explosion? It was not an unreasonable case, for statistics of causes leading to accidents showed that negligence, such as using open lights, or firing shots in mines where such was not allowed, made up a considerable percentage of the causes which had led to serious catastrophes. What would be the case in the event of serious accident?

It was possible that somebody might survive to give information of what occurred, but the more serious the accident the more complete the wreck and ruin effected, the more fatal the results, the less chance there would be of the workman being able to get any evidence to prove that he was entitled to compensation, either in regard to negligence on the part of workmen or equally so with regard to the negligence of the manager or employer.

Within the last two hours he had been looking through the returns of accidents in mines in 1894, and he found that one of the most serious accidents that had ever taken place occurred in that year.

Although statistics showed that in an enormous proportion of cases convictions were obtained where either the manager, or employer, or a workman were prosecuted for negligence, yet in this case, where the loss of life was appalling, a note in the Blue-book gave as the result of prosecution that, although the inspector thought it necessary to prosecute, yet the summons for illegal shot-firing was dismissed, because he was unable to prove to the satisfaction of the Court that shots were fired, the persons who could have given evidence having lost their lives in the explosion, so he could bring forward only circumstantial evidence.

He mentioned this to show that such a case was far from being impossible; therefore from the workman’s point of view, though he was entitled to compensation in all cases where negligence occurred, it was very likely that in a considerable number of cases he would be deprived of it owing to circumstances not within his own control and which ought not to affect his claim to compensation.

This week… 

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara.

The Government’s proposal to end civil liability in health and safety is a major change in the existing law and was added to the Bill on Report in another place. It needs to bescrutinised very carefully.

Is it really the Government’s intention that a worker injured due to an employer’s breach of a statutory duty within the health and safety at work regulations-such as failing to guard a machine-will be required to prove that the employer knew, or ought to have known, of such a failure in order to gain redress for the injury sustained?

The requirement to prove foreseeability is a very high bar of proof for an individual injured or killed through no fault of their own. Do the Government really think that by proposing this change they are sending the right message to employers about the importance of health and safety?

There has been no public consultation on this proposal and what is being proposed goes further than the recommendations made in this area by Professor Lofstedt, in his recent report.

125 years ago…

The Prime Minister, The Marquess of Salisbury.

We are now, by a wise and general revision of the principle in which the law rests, applying it for the purpose for which it was originally destined, and for which it has been commonly and most profitably employed,

the purpose of forcing all who by the process of their industry or the accident of their position have the lives of their fellow men in their power – forcing them to spare neither labour nor ingenuity nor money in making our industries as safe as possible to those by whom they are carried on. (Cheers.)

After 1897 injured employees had only to show they had been injured on the job…what can they look forward to after 2012, Mr Cameron?

RoSPA ‘hits the nail on the head’ in ground-breaking analysis of accident statistics

In a ground-breaking review of government statistics, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) says the ‘true impact’ of accidents is hidden.

RoSPA hits the nail on the head in ground-breaking analysis of accident statistics

Photo: BBC images

According to the charity, there should be a “fundamental re-appraisal” of government public health priorities with a focus on premature and preventable deaths. On that basis, action to curb accidents should be the number one priority, it says.

Official figures show accidents account for just 2% of deaths in England and Wales – far behind cancer, and heart and respiratory disease, but RoSPA says this conceals the true impact of unintentional injuries in a report drawing on data from the Office for National Statistics to argue for a new approach to public health.

“We are faced with an accident epidemic that’s wiping out people in their prime”

 Tom Mullarkey, Chief Executive, RoSPA

The charity calculated the years of life lost as a result of premature death, based on the average number of years which those who died could have been expected to live.

This moved accidents up the priority list, because many victims die young.

RoSPA then filtered out deaths which could not have been prevented.

 

THE KEY FINDING:

RoSPA found that up to the age of 60, accidents were the leading cause of preventable years of life lost, accounting for 23% of the total.

 

On the back of this extremely important finding we ask the government and the insurance industry two simple questions…

Where’s the ‘compensation culture’ in these figures?

Why are you intent on dismantling health and safety regulations in the UK when people are dying from preventable accidents?  

RoSPA’s chief executive, Tom Mullarkey, says this is one of the most important findings in its 95-year history.

He says there is a “moral obligation” to prevent people dying before their time.

“We all know about diseases and the resources that are pumped into preventing the deaths they cause, but if only a fraction of that resource was used to prevent accidents we would not be faced, as we are today, with an accident epidemic that’s wiping out people in their prime.”

The charity says schemes to prevent accidents achieve quick results and can generate huge savings for the NHS. It wants extra support and information for people at key moments in their lives – including teenagers, parents and carers of young children, and people over 65.

RoSPA states that in England alone £1bn each year should be set aside to achieve this. The charity estimates that currently less than £1m is spent annually on these schemes.

In a statement, the Department of Health insisted that accident prevention was a key part of its approach to public health….aye, right.

In the light of government attacks on worker health and safety and a general downgrading of risk assessment and accident prevention, we can only hope that RoSPA’s voice is heard above the din of the insurance industry wailing about the costs of saving people’s lives…  

This report should be required reading at Cabinet level and hopefully will be an antidote to the relentless dismantling of the nation’s health and safety regualtions.

Black Monday Part 2: ‘Think-tank blames compensation culture for EVERYTHING

Black Monday Part 2: 'Think-tank blames compensation culture for EVERYTHING

Photograph: BBC

Chiming nicely with this Government’s anti-health and safety mantra, a new ‘think tank’ report claims that “an ingrained compensation culture is bleeding health and education services dry,”…

Independent study? Oh really?

Well at last the Government has unearthed somebody who thinks hurt and injured people seeking compensation are the cause of all that’s wrong with the NHS and the education system… 

Glib tabloid sound bite – 1, reasoned debate – 0.

Payouts by the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) have trebled in the past decade, standing at £911m in 2010/11, according to the report by the Centre for Policy Studies at Kent University.

Of this, £863m was paid in connection with clinical negligence claims, the report says.

OUR QUESTION: Did those claiming compensation not have to PROVE negligence?

ANSWER:   Yes.

Are we expected to believe that insurance companies just simply pay out on spurious claims? Don’t think so. If that was the case we would be blaming the insurance companies for the myth of the ‘compensation culture…wait a minute…

So what is the real issue here? Is it the cost of compensation claims or falling standards of care and education?

The report adds that as of March last year, the NHSLA estimated its potential liabilities at £16.8bn, though a large proportion of cases do not reach court.

Out of 63,804 medical negligence claims received by the NHSLA, 38% were abandoned by the claimant, 45% were settled out of court 3% had damages approved or set by a court and 14% have yet to settle.

Tim Knox, director of the Centre for Policy Studies, said: “This rise in the compensation culture has huge – if largely hidden – costs. In particular, it has created a climate in which professionals will prioritise litigation avoidance above what is best for their pupils or patients.”

This is an outrageous and unsupported claim. Mr Knox is asserting that NHS clinicians and school teachers are putting patients and pupils a poor second behind financial considerations.

By the way, why is the HSE silent when reports like this are churned out? Isn’t the HSE keen to dispel health and safety myths? There is a section on the HSE website dedicated to this very topic… 

Meanwhile, back in the Twilight Zone, Mr Knox, at a stroke, has just RUBBISHED the ethical standards of hundreds of thousands of highly paid, highly qualified and highly respected professional people throughout the UK.

WELL DONE…

The report goes on to warn that instead of improving safety and accountability, it (the oft-quoted ‘compensation culture’, has resulted in “significant costs to the quality of services and the experiences of those who use them”.

Lest the dead horse has not been flogged enough, it continues: “The combination of an ingrained compensation culture and litigation avoidance is bleeding the health and education services dry, both financially, and in terms of their public sector ethos and professional role.”

Report author Professor Frank Furedi said fear of legal action can hold back progress and creativity. “It erodes professional autonomy, stifles innovation, leads to defensive practices in both hospitals and schools and encourages greater bureaucracy,” he said.

Wow, we say, Professor Frank. That’s quite a lot to lay at the door of the non-existent compensation culture. It’s not us saying it’s non existent; it’s the two recent Government sponsored reports on the subject that rubbished the notion of a compensation culture:

‘Common Sense – Common Safety’ – Lord Young, 2010.

‘Reclaiming Health and Safety for all’ – Professor Ragnar Lofstedt, 2011.

However, according to Frank Furedi, “‘Best practice’ is now defined as having checked all the boxes in a quality assurance form rather than doing what is best for the patient or pupil.”

About all we can say for this study is that it checks the box for finding a study to support the ill-founded notion of a compensation culture and thus the Government can happily push on with its Crusade against the legitmate rights of its citizens to seek justice and fair compensation.

What must Lord Young and Professor Lofstedt think?   

 

‘Complete and utter Maudeness’ – Minister creates havoc at home with lethal ‘advice’ on fuel storage.

'Complete and utter Maudeness' - Minister creates havoc at home with lethal 'advice' on fuel storage.

The Telegraph

Before we vilify Francis Maude for truly mind-bogglingly staggering ineptitude, we should consider his pronouncement within the context of the government’s cavalier approach to health & safety legislation in the UK.

Firstly we had Lord Young of Gaffem’s report ‘Common Sense Common Safety’, wherein the noble peer delivered what was expected of him and proferred the idea that we could dispense with much of the UK’s current health & safety regulations.

David Cameron fell on the report like a hungry wolf spying the fatted calf and immediately announced a raft of cut backs and claw backs as he began the process of dismantling 178 years of hard fought progress in worker and public safety in this country.

So far, so bad.

The primary justification for this rush to deregulate is the much-vaunted yet fatally flawed theory that less onerous health & safety regulation means more profit for business.

Then we had Professor Ragnar Lofstedt’s report ‘Reclaiming Health & Safety For All’. Professor Lofstedt has clearly stated that he is not in favour of ‘radical’ reform, apparently contrary to prime minister David Cameron’s attack on the ‘monster’ of health and safety.

The PM referenced Lofstedt’s report from December as he blamed the ‘albatross’ of health and safety legislation for holding back British businesses but the King’s College academic, insisted he had never called for significant changes to legal policy and did not believe in a compensation culture.

When asked if he was worried his report could be hijacked for political purposes, he said: ‘I am concerned about it. I am concerned my review could be misused.’

So bad, so far…

‘The scores on the doors’ : Reports delivered – 2. ‘Common Sense’ health & safety strategy in the UK – 0.

The second assumption underpinning the current madness is the notion that most day to day activities and even most workplaces are intrinsically safe and thus we only require a light touch on the regulation tiller to ensure our safety as we go about our daily lives…

and this is where Francis Maude comes in.

MINISTER CREATES HAVOC AT HOME WITH LETHAL ADVICE ON FUEL STORAGE AS WOMAN SUFFERS 40% BURNS IN JERRY CAN FIRE.

Fire officers have warned the public not to store petrol in their home after a woman suffered 40 per cent burns in a fire started by petrol she was transferring between containers, following advice from government minister Francis Maude that motorists should consider storing fuel in anticipation of a tanker drivers’ strike.

The victim, 46-year-old Diane Hill, was badly injured after her clothes caught fire while decanting the fuel from one container into another at her home on York. A fire service spokesman said:

‘She was using her cooker at the same time as pouring petrol from one container to another using a jug after her daughter had asked for some petrol.’

The mother-of-two, from the Acomb area of York, was taken to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, Yorks while two firefighters wearing breathing equipment dealt with the aftermath.

At the time of writing no apology has been received from Mr Maude…but the real bad news is that he probably doesn’t know what he and his government should be apologising for.  

2012 is ‘The Year of Living Dangerously’…if you live or work in Britain.

2012  is 'The Year of Living Dangerously'...if you live or work in Britain.

Photo:The Telegraph

The Mayans predicted 21st December 2012 as the end of days.

January 5th, 2012 comes a close second as David Cameron picked this day to get a head start on the Mayans and launch his government’s ‘Year of Living Dangerously’  – for you and me, that is.

Let us review recent events…because this government seems determined to keep reviewing health and safety legislation until it gets the answer it wants…

 

In October 2010, Lord Young’s report – ‘Common Sense, Common Safety’ stated on page 19 that:

‘Britain’s compensation culture is fuelled by media stories about individuals receiving large compensation pay outs for personal injury claims.

The problem of the compensation culture prevalent in society today is, however, one of perception rather than reality.’

Lord Young’s report was welcomed by the government.

 

In November 2011, Professor Ragnar Lofstedt concluded in his report – ‘Reclaiming health and safety for all. An independent review of health and safety legislation’ that: 

‘In general, there is no need for radically altering current health and safety legislation.‘ 

He went on to say that he wanted businesses to :

‘reclaim ownership of the management of health and safety and see it as a vital part of their operation rather than an unnecessary and bureaucratic paperwork exercise.’

Professor Lofstedt’s report was welcomed by the government. 

 

However, on 5th January 2012, the Prime Minister stood the core findings of these reports on their heads and launched a vitriolic assault on accident victims and their legal representatives as he endeavoured to sell the British public the idea that health and safety legislation is bad for business. 

He pledged to ‘slay the health and safety monster.’

He vowed to make 2012 the year we ‘kill off the health and safety culture for good.’

He fumed that ‘health and safety legislation has been an albatross around the neck of British business.’

He promised that ‘our plan will deter the speculative health and safety chancers who leech off good businesses.’   

Either he hasn’t read these reports;commissioned by his own government, or he has chosen to ignore their findings and twist their conclusions to suit his own agenda, which is quite remarkably in tune with the agenda promoted by the Association of British Insurers.

The ABI has been invited to a Number 10 ‘summit’ to discuss how to dismantle 178 years of progress in health and safety regulation designed to protect British workers and the British public.

Quite apart from the appallingly injudicious language employed by the PM and his tabloid-toadying populist sound bites, his policy makes no commercial sense whatsoever.    

Here’s the counter argument as proposed by a senior US government official, which we highlighted in our blog of 16th February last year…

David Michaels, Assistant Secretary for Labor in the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration had a lot to say on the subject of health and safety regulation and jobs:

‘Despite concerns about the effect of regulation on American business, there is clear evidence that OSHA’s common sense regulations have made working conditions in this country far safer than 40 year’s ago when this agency was created, while at the same time protecting American jobs.

 

The truth is that OSHA standards don’t kill jobs. They stop jobs from killing workers.

OSHA standards don’t just prevent worker injuries and illnesses, they also drive technological innovation, making industry more competitive.’

 

Despite the weight of evidence proving that robust health and safety legislation actually improves the health of the economy, the government is hell-bent on making its point in 2012.

 

Let’s hope that someone in the cabinet has enough spirit and common sense to speak up for our well-being before we revert back to the worst excesses of rogue factory owners and ‘laissez-faire’ employee exploitation that treated worker safety as an impediment to profit.