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New laws to protect Good Samaritans, community heroes and small business owners

Wednesday’s Queen’s speech will be the last of this government and it will be interesting to see what the coalition hopes to achieve in this final parliamentary session. We received a preview this morning from the MoJ with the announcement of a bill designed to take further steps to level the playing field in favour of employers who have done all that is reasonable to protect employees, and to ensure that people who volunteer and carry out good deeds should not be put off by worries about risk and liability if something goes wrong. 

In the press release, Chris Grayling, the secretary of state, makes it clear that he thinks more is needed to, as he says, “put the law on the side” of employers who do the right things to protect employees. He identifies two situations which he wants to cover where liability on the part of the employer can currently arise. One is where the employer has done the right thing to protect employees but when something goes wrong through no fault of the employer. The other is where a responsible employer is currently held liable in a situation where the real cause of an accident is an employee doing something stupid. This would suggest a measure that goes further than the recent amendment to the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 removing civil liability for breach of statutory duty brought in by s.69 of ERRA.

On the question of liability of people who volunteer, it appears that judges will have to give weight to three additional factors when deciding negligence cases:

  • If the person was doing something for “the benefit of society” – to give weight to the fact people were doing a good deed like volunteering, running an event or trip, or helping out by clearing snow;

  • If they had been acting in a “generally responsible way” – to make sure the court will give consideration to the fact people may have taken care when organising an activity but an accident has happened;

  • If they were “acting in emergency” – if they stepped in to help someone in danger but something went wrong.

In the meantime, the Deregulation Bill is being carried over into the 2014-15 session. Readers will recall this Bill contains a section which proposes to amend s.3 HSWA to exempt from health and safety law those self-employed whose work activities pose no potential risk of harm to others.

This all forms part of the government’s work to restore common sense to health and safety law with a view to reducing the compensation culture. There are echoes here of the report from Lord Young which led to the Löfstedt recommendations and onto the ERRA. We await a draft Bill with interest. It seems that government does not want to stop where it is post ERRA, but to change the law further in this area which it continues to see as important and requiring further reform in the remaining 11 months of this parliament.

Update: 13 June 2014

The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill has now been published and is expected to receive Royal Assent by the end of parliamentary session in early 2015. The MOJ is keen to point out that:

“The bill does not tell the court what conclusion it should reach and does not prevent a person from being found liable if the circumstances of the case warrant it. It does not therefore give anybody licence to take unnecessary risks with people’s safety or leave the injured party without a remedy when the defendant has failed to meet the appropriate standard of care. However, it will send a strong signal to reassure people that the courts will consider, in all cases, the wider context of the defendant’s actions before reaching a conclusion on liability.”

Visit the bill’s homepage on the Parliament website to keep up with its progress.

Contact

For further information, please contact Simon Denyer, Strategic Legal Development Partner, on 0161 604 1551.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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