The Coalition Government took power promising to free UK business from the straitjacket of EU-inspired regulation. The so-called “6 pack” regulations which provide the framework for the law of employers’ liability in the field of personal injury have long been criticised by certain sections of the press (if you search online for “compensation culture” or “health and safety gone mad” you’ll see what I mean). It now seems that the Government is keen to deliver on its promise (which formed part of a “red tape challenge” launched by David Cameron in April). On 30 November Professor Ragnar Lofstedt (an academic geographer based at King’s College, London) launched his Government-commissioned review: “Reclaiming Health and Safety for All: An Independent Review of Health and Safety Legislation”.
This contains a number of recommendations of which some key provisions are as follows: (1) Future EU-inspired health and safety recommendations should be based upon and underpinned by the best science available; (2) All future EU regulatory policies should follow a process of risk assessment, rather than being based on the classification of a substance, article or activity as hazardous; (3) All Regulations (and amendments to the same) which have a projected cost (to society across the EU at large) which exceeds 100 million Euros should be subjected to an automatic regulatory impact assessment; (4) Such impact assessment should be accompanied by a strict scientific peer review; (5) A European Parliamentary Committee should be established to consider risk (as relevant to the promulgation of legislation). These recommendations clearly operate at a high level of generality. They are unlikely to be controversial. However, among other proposals are that self-employed people whose work poses no risk to others should be exempt from health and safety rules altogether. Professor Lofstedt suggests that up to a million self-employed people could fall within such an exemption. The review also suggests a variety of other changes at a domestic level: (a) Removing the need for first aiders' training to be approved centrally by the Health and Safety Executive; (b) Simplifying the rules for the reporting of workplace accidents; (c) Scrapping requirements for the annual testing of microwaves and kettles; (d) Removing confusion over what constitutes "height" within the Working at Height Regulations. While these more specific suggestions have prompted opposition from the unions, one wonders whether, if implemented, these changes will make much difference to the outcome of most EL personal injury claims. English Judges have a long and well-established tradition of improving upon the wording of Regulations in the field of employment health and safety. They are unlikely to react favourably to any legislation that provides employers with what will be regarded by some as a licence to maim and injure. The Compensation Act 2006 has relatively little impact on most personal injury claims. It seems unlikely that any new employers’ charter will have any greater effect even if Parliamentary time is made available.