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Still no hiding place for companies that flout health & safety laws

The government's plans to remove civil liability for employers that have breached their health and safety duties were defeated in Parliament earlier this month and it is quite surprising how little coverage this has received.

Peers voted in favour - albeit narrowly - of keeping the current regulations as they are, which means that companies could still be forced to cough up compensation packages if staff suffer injuries in the workplace.

The government had hoped to remove the perceived "compensation culture" in the UK, as it argued that some firms are scared to recruit new workers for fear that they will lodge personal injury claims against them. It wanted to alter the current legislation so that negligence had to be proved before a business was forced to make a payout.

Although the authorities insisted the reforms would not dilute health and safety standards in the UK, MPs who opposed the changes had previously stated that they would give companies too much scope to flout crucial workplace safety rules and it would be like returning to "Victorian times".

So, it is a case of as you were in the health and safety industry and there really is no hiding place for businesses that think they can cut corners.

Statistics provided by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) show that standards are still improving in the UK and the country has a favourable record when compared with most countries in Europe.

However, that certainly does not mean that things are currently perfect. In 2011/12, 173 people did not return home from work, while thousands of employees suffered serious injuries, which were life-changing in some cases.

While it was encouraging to see the number of workplace fatalities in 2012 fall by 12 per cent when compared to the five-year average, it is clear that far more still needs to be done to protect employees, especially in dangerous professions like construction, manufacturing and agriculture.

One area that is of particular concern is falls from height, as this type of accident still accounts for the most fatal and non-fatal workplace incidents.

Already this week, the courts have had to deal with a number of cases involving companies that have failed to safeguard their employees when working off the floor.

A self-employed worker was given a £1,250 fine after a friend who was helping him on a job fell through the roof of a disused factory. The man only fell from a height of three metres, but he still suffered painful injuries, including a broken elbow.

The HSE insisted that the work was not planned correctly and the accident could have been easily prevented.

In a similar case, a local council was given a £7,000 fine after a caretaker fell from a shed roof at a school. The 61-year-old had not received any training on how to work safely at height, despite the fact he had been employed by the school for six years before the accident.

HSE inspector Sue Adsett reiterated just how dangerous this type of work can be.

"Falls from height are the single biggest cause of deaths and serious injury in the construction industry but proper planning and simple precautions, such as working from platforms below when possible and using edge protection, can reduce the risks," she remarked.

"Working on roofs is potentially dangerous and must be approached in a professional way."

Figures show that 40 workers were killed and more than 3,400 were seriously injured in falls from height in 2011/12, which shows just how pressing the issue is.

With the government's plans to remove public liability for companies that breach health and safety laws being thrown out, firms will continue to face expensive claims if they do not adequately protect their staff.ADNFCR-2134-ID-801558621-ADNFCR