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.

Children at greater risk from dangerous dogs than ever before

Children at greater risk from dangerous dogs than ever before

There has been an alarming rise in the number of children needing hospital treatment for dog attacks in the UK in the past 12 months, according to data recently released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre. 

New figures revealed that 6,450 people were admitted in the 12 months to April 2012, up from 6,130 the year before.

Children aged under 10 were the worst-affected group, accounting for one in six of admissions.

Of the 1,040 admissions for this group of youngsters, 494 were for plastic surgery and 278 were to the oral and facial surgery unit.

Among adults the rate of admissions to the trauma and orthopaedic treatment speciality was more than triple that of under-10s.

NHS data released a few months ago revealed dogs bite cases in casualty departments reached 6,097 in the year to the end of March 2011. This is up 94 per cent compared to a decade earlier.

HSCIC chief executive Tim Straughan said: ‘Through further analysis, it is also possible to infer a likely distinction in the type of injuries sustained by child and adult victims of dog bites and strikes; with children having a higher rate of admission to the specialities that carry out plastic and specialist facial surgery.’

Postal workers ‘Bite Back’ with union support

CWU’s Bite Back campaign aims to raise awareness about responsible dog ownership and get new laws in place to protect people who are attacked on private property. The union believes the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is failing to protect both dog owners and attack victims.

Following on from law changes in Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2011 (see our blog post archive for more details), the Welsh Assembly confirmed on July 17 2012 that it will also now legislate to improve dangerous dogs laws…but what about Westminster?

Let’s not hold our breath on this one as the government’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme consultation exercise proposed the following exclusion in its approach to dealing with animal attacks:

‘Where the person has been a victim of an animal attack, unless the animal itself was used deliberately to inflict an injury on that person.’  
Two particularly horrific cases cited were the injuries suffered by postmen in Sheffield and Cambridge, both of whom almost lost limbs while carrying out their duties because of the irresponsibility of dog owners.

The union estimates that some 5,000 postal workers and around 400 telecom engineers are attacked by domestic pets each year – these range from minor injuries to the kind of life-threatening incidents suffered by the postmen in Sheffield and Cambridge.

New Royal Mail figures show that 3,100 attacks were recorded on postal workers between April 2011 and April 2012. In the Sheffield case, the owner was prosecuted and jailed, the man who owned two rottweillers that almost tore off the Cambridge postman’s arm escaped legal sanction altogether.

Dave Joyce, CWU health, safety and environment officer, has spearheaded the CWU’s campaign for legal reform and argues:

“It’s outrageous that hard-working and conscientious people, providing a whole range of vital public services have been, effectively, treated the same as criminal trespassers by the law. We desperately need new laws to protect victims and promote responsible dog ownership to prevent attacks taking place.”

Scottish Postal worker bitten for the 18th time…

Fife postman Garry Haldane needed treatment after being bitten by a dog near Dunfermline High School.

The attack, which took place on 25th August this year, was the 18th time in his 20 year career that Mr. Haldane had been bitten by a dog. He was taken the nearby Queen Margaret Hospital for treatment to puncture wounds and bruising.

He said it was “not acceptable” for postal workers to be subjected to animal attacks. A 51-year-old man has been cautioned and charged.

Mr Haldane, a rep for the Communication Workers Union (CWU), has recently been campaigning for postmen to get better protection from dangerous dogs.

In West Fife, postal workers have compiled a list of addresses of dangerous animals after more than 30 dog attacks on Royal Mail employees were reported in the space of 12 months. That figure was up by 74% on the previous year.

Bonnar & Company is very experienced in dealing with dog attack claims and we recently settled a case for a victim involved in a particularly horrifying incident.

If you or a member of your family need legal advice folowing a dog attack, please contact us for free confidential consultation.

Black Monday Part 1: Business minister writes off the workplace safety of millions

Black Monday Part 1: Business minister writes off the workplace safety of millions

Business Minister Michael Fallon. Photograph: Neil Hall / Reuters

Bad luck if you work in a school, or a shop, or an office or a pub. Why? It’s quite horrifyingly simple – on Monday 10th September, 2012 this Government sacrificed your health and safety at work on the altar of spurious economics and political dogma.

The ‘theory’ underpinning this black day for worker safety is that the aforementioned workplaces are intrinsically safe, or at least not quite as dangerous as dangerous places, like construction sites. What the government is actually doing to improve health and safety on construction sites can be written on the back of a fag packet in big letters, but that’s a different story…

Perhaps the minister hasn’t heard of asbestos? Maybe he thinks people don’t get injured in schools or shops? Maybe he believes that workplace deaths conform to a strict pattern and afflict only known so-called high risk premises? Do fires and explosions only occur in places thought to be dangerous? This attitude begs the question – who is doing the THINKING? 

Hundreds of thousands of businesses are to be exempted from health and safety inspections under the move and legislation will be introduced which ministers say will protect business from “compensation culture” claims.

More on this topic in Black Monday Part 2, but even a newly appointed government minister, like the freshly minted Mr. Fallon, must be aware that Lord Young’s 2010 Report: ‘Common Sense – Common Safety’ , comissioned by David Cameron, dismissed the notion of a compensation culture in the UK as a figment of tabloid journalism.  

More than 3,000 regulations will be scrapped or overhauled, so that shops, offices, pubs and clubs will no longer face “burdensome” health and safety inspections.Officials described it as a “radical” plan to curb red tape.

NO IT ISN’T.

It’s a reactionary plan to curb legitimate claims for compensation arising from workplace injuries.

Hurt and injured people claiming compensation for their injuries are not the cause of this country’s economic woes. Ye gods – does the Government want to turn the clock back 150 years  

The new rules, which will govern both the Health & Safety Executive and local authorities, are intended to be introduced next April.

Firms will only face health and safety inspections if they are operating in higher-risk areas such as construction or if they have an incident or track record of poor performance.

The Government also said it will introduce legislation next month to ensure that businesses will only be held liable for civil damages in health and safety cases if they can be shown to have acted negligently.

Business minister Michael Fallon said the new measures would free businesses from unnecessary red tape and help them focus on creating jobs and growth. He said: “We are all impatient for growth now and we have to do everything we can to lift this economy out of recession it’s been in and back business to create more jobs.”

Responding to union concerns that removing health and safety regulations could put workers at risk, he said: “Let me be very clear, this is only for low risk premises, offices, shops, things like that. This is not where there is risk involved, we are not talking about chemical plants or care homes.”

Predictably, the usual suspects welcomed the moves.

Alexander Ehmann, head of regulatory policy at the Institute of Directors, said: “The Government’s efforts on deregulation are welcome.Excessive regulation costs time and money, both of which businesses would rather spend on developing new products, hiring staff and building up British business both here and abroad.”

However, Richard Jones, head of policy and public affairs at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, said the Government was wrong to point the finger at health and safety, “which is always seen as an easy target”, when it comes to cutting red tape.

He said there were only 200 health and safety regulations so they were only a tiny percentage of the 3,000 total regulations.

Labour’s shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna rubbished the Government’s move as a “gimmick” that would not help the UK out of the double dip recession.

“If you talk to business about what is the main problem they face, it is a lack of demand, it is not regulation.”

Unfortunately this Government only talks to its friends in industry, like when the PM invited the insurance companies to Number 10 in February this year to hear their whingeings and bleatings about the cost of paying compensation to hurt and injured people and their families.    

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.