By Daniel Hunter

The Forum of Private Business was ready to welcome significant changes to work place health and safety due to come in this weekend as a landmark moment for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and a long-overdue victory for common sense. The celebrations have been put on hold after the House of Lords blocked its progress.

The not-for-profit business support organisation says the removal of strict liability for employers would mean H&S becomes a less burdensome task for employers and help make workplaces across the country safer.

It said the proposed new focus on making employees more aware and responsible for their own actions was something its own recent research had shown strong support for from small business owners and was the common sense way forward.

The new measures were due to come into effect on Saturday as part of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, but the clause was defeated in the House of Lords meaning it won’t be adopted in statute.

“This is a deregulatory measure which meant as long as an employer takes reasonable steps on H&S then they shouldn’t be subject to prosecution for things they couldn’t possibly have predicted or prevented, and was simply the common sense way to go,” said the Forum’s Head of Policy, Alex Jackman.

“It’s a fact of life that accidents, unfortunately, do just happen, and sometimes there’s nothing that can be done to prevent them. This new approach to H&S would have gone a long way to recognising this. For too long the entire onus has been on the employer as part of a blame-game approach that has cost business millions, and has also tarnished people’s view of what’s a very serious, important subject.

“People have lost faith in health and safety, with organisations such as the Health and Safety Executive pilloried, and along the way that’s debased the issue in the nation’s eyes.

“We had hoped this new approach could help rebuild and restore trust and faith in workplace health and safety practices, while at the same time freeing business to get on with trading during difficult economic times. Sadly, not all share the view that employees should have a degree of common sense around health and safety law and we will have to wait a little longer.

“Excessive regulation has cost UK firms both time and money in recent years, tangling firms in red tape and preventing them from growing their business. We urge the government to press on with this change in the face of misguided opposition.”

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