An Appreciation of UK Health & Safety Regulations

It only takes the mere mention of the words ‘health and safety’ for many people to sigh, and mutter, ‘the country’s gone mad’ or ‘it wasn’t like this in my day’.

It cannot be denied that in the UK, there is a lot of legislation governing the workplace. With regulations concerning things from asbestos to submarine pipelines it can sometimes be easy to see why people believe that there are too many rules, too many dos and don’ts, and not enough freedom for individuals to actually get on with their job.

However, recent news surrounding working conditions in Qatar can make us take a step back from this cynical outlook on our approach to safety in the workplace, and perhaps appreciate the reasons why our country has implemented such a large amount of legislation.

The Guardian newspaper’s investigation of the conditions in the 2022 World Cup hosting State has revealed that at least 44 workers have died between 4 June and 8 August this year due to the heat and work place accidents whilst labouring on development sites in preparation for 2022. This is a rate of more than 1 death per day.

The newspaper further revealed that there is evidence of forced labour on the project, as well as the allegation that some of the Nepalese workers have not received payment for months, and do not even have access to drinking water in the immense heat. It is reported by the Guardian that the conditions “amount to modern day slavery”.

This shocking revelation makes us grateful that not only human rights, but also health and safety at work regulations in the UK are robustly enforced. According to statistics from the Health and Safety Executive website, 148 workers were fatally injured in the UK in 2012/13. This is 18% lower than the average for the past 5 years, and is a rate of 0.5 in every 100,000 workers.

Any death at work is a tragedy. However, these statistics do indicate that the amount of workplace related deaths in the UK is relatively low. This is most probably by reason of the strict health and safety regime of the UK.

Currently, there are real concerns about our system due to the changes brought in by s69 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. This has amended the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 by in essence removing the strict liability aspect of breach of the health and safety regulations, and putting the onus on the injured employee to prove negligence on the employer’s part in order to recover compensation.

Whilst these wide-ranging legislative changes will undoubtedly make it more difficult for employees to claim damages, we must recognise that having a comprehensive and enforceable health and safety regime is not something to be scoffed at, or complained about; it is there to protect us, and ensure that our safety and wellbeing is protected whilst we are at work, as the safety of all employees, in all countries, should be.