In October 2006 we reported that health and safety experts were keeping a close eye on the European Commission’s claim against the UK Government (Case C-127/05). The Commission claimed that because Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 only required UK employers to ensure the health and safety of their workers “so far as is reasonably practicable” the Government was in breach of its obligations under the European Directive (89/391) which appears to place an absolute obligation on employers. This is despite the fact that the UK has been one of the Member States with the lowest rate of workplace accidents.
The Advocate General recently dismissed the Commission’s claim and ordered it to pay costs. It said that the Commission’s claim was based on an incorrect interpretation of the Directive and that the general duty placed on employers did not require them to provide a totally risk-free working environment.
The Advocate General’s decision is not binding on the European Court of Justice which ultimately has to determine this issue, although hopefully the Court will adopt the same approach, not least because to adopt the strict approach argued for would simply be impossible in many cases. This matter is likely to be heard by the ECJ later this year.