Following Professor Löftstedt’s review into health and safety, the Deregulation Bill was produced and is currently through Parliament. The Bill includes the proposal to remove the duty for self employed people to avoid endangering both themselves and others (s.3(2) HSWA). A draft list of the sectors which would be exempted from deregulation include asbestos, construction, gas appliances and waste management. The intention had been to reduce the burden on small low risk businesses from the fear of prosecution for minor breaches. However, trade unions and safety bodies such as RoSPA have expressed concern at the expected reach of the Bill. Until the HSE and the government make a decision as to which sectors will be covered, it is difficult to ascertain the full impact of the Bill if it reaches the statute book.
Professor Löftstedt has written to the Public Bill Committee to clarify that potential low risk sectors included clerical jobs and noted high risks sectors would be excluded from deregulation. However, it appears that the ambit of the Bill is likely to reach far wider than roles which are obviously low risk.
The familiar cry of “health and safety gone mad” has also been behind the bringing into force of the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill which is expected to come into force in May 2015. In addition to ensuring that good Samaritans will have the “law on their side”, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) also claims that the Bill will allow the law to be on the side of employers who “do the right thing” to protect their employees. The Bill introduces three factors that a court must have regard to when considering civil liability, namely whether the defendant:
- Was acting for the benefit of society or its members
- Demonstrated a generally responsible approach towards protecting the safety or other interests of others
- Was acting heroically by intervening in an emergency to assist an individual in danger and without regard to the person’s own safety or other interests
The MoJ states that the Bill will ensure that volunteers who carry out good deeds are not put off by the risk of being sued if something goes wrong. As for the impact on employers’ liability claims, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling stated: “I don’t want us to be a society where a responsible employer gets the blame for someone doing something stupid.”
However, precisely what effect the Bill would have on the courts is uncertain. Judges considering civil liability already have to consider whether an employer has acted reasonably, and can already reflect an employee’s own negligent acts by reducing/extinguishing liability as a result of contributory negligence. It has therefore been argued that the Bill is nothing more than a “vote pleaser” which will, in practice, have no effect.