By Daniel Hunter

The Forum of Private Business has urged MPs to be brave and not shy away from meaningful reform of health and safety legislation due to be debated on the Commons tomorrow (Tuesday).

MPs will be discussing the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which was blocked by the Lords because of the intention to remove strict liability for employers.

Under existing legislation, strict liability means employers can be held responsible for workplace accidents even if they couldn’t have been prevented, or the accident was not even their fault.

“While small businesses understand their responsibilities under the law when it comes to health and safety, they feel not enough recognition is given to the need for employees to share that responsibility," a spokesperson for the Forum said.

“A shift towards ‘common sense’ in the workplace would allow employers to fulfil the basic requirements of health and safety law without worrying of potential, unforeseen claims against them. We also think it would greatly increase workplace safety by changing the culture.

“We are urging all parties to support proposals around removing the strict liability on employers within the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. This clause was rejected in the House of Lords in favour of a further review, as suggested in Professor Lofstedt’s recent report. There were also suggestions that this would shift the costs of injury to family which would increase dependency on the state at a time when government is trying to reduce state benefits. We would dispute these claims.

“For years, small businesses have been over compliant with health and safety, at enormous cost. This is because of the fear of the ‘claim culture’ as well as private sector consultants that encourage clients to go above and beyond health and safety requirements in law.

“Removing strict liability will reduce that over compliance and reduce company costs, which will benefit their growth potential. It would also recognise the lengths that businesses already go to in order to protect employees. After all, it is their best interests to ensure a safe workplace.

"At present, there is a culture that encourages making a claim, even when the incident involves an element over which an employer could have no reasonable control. Strict liability means they are still held responsible. This is unfair.

"The Forum of Private Business has considered a number of ways of encouraging a culture change aside from removing strict liability. We believe strongly that this is an important step that should be taken."

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