Northern Ireland workers could be at greater risk of injury if proposals in Westminster to put health and safety legislation back to the Victorian era go ahead.
Figures obtained by not-for-profit campaign group the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) show that Northern Ireland is currently the UK’s safest jurisdiction in which to work. But APIL warns that a clause in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which will revolutionise the way injured workers claim compensation from their employers could put more employees at risk.
“Northern Ireland’s workforce is statistically safer in terms of injury than workers in England, Wales or Scotland, but if Government proposals go ahead we could see more injuries across all jurisdictions,” warned APIL representative for Northern Ireland, Martin Hanna. “There were more than 2,700 workplace injuries in Northern Ireland between 2011 and 2012,” he said. “Even though that’s lower than in the rest of the UK, it is still too high and there is no room for complacency.”
He explained: “The current system for making workplace injury claims has been in place for more than 100 years, and was introduced to help to protect people injured at work. The proposed changes would mean that, if an employer breaches health and safety regulations and a worker is injured, the burden of proving what went wrong will fall to the worker.”
“This gives bosses who have been negligent the upper hand, as they are the ones who control the workplace, and the work equipment, and they hold all the information about what systems they have in place. The injured person, who has none of this knowledge at his fingertips will have to gather the evidence himself to prove his case and the odds will be completely stacked against him, where now the law is clear and fair and looks after the vulnerable individual.
“Many people will be put off altogether from making genuine claims for the compensation they may desperately need to get back on their feet,” Hanna went on. “This is effectively a license for negligent employers to avoid their health and safety responsibilities. And, if the guilty party does not make proper recompense, the state will have to foot the bill for medical care and other support.”
During 2011/12 there were 396 workplace injuries recorded in Northern Ireland per 100,000 employees. The rates for England, Wales and Scotland are 441, 519, and 425 respectively.
“Policymakers need to recognise that health and safety regulation is not some sort of burden for business but a necessary and proportionate way to ensure that people who turn up to do an honest day’s work do not go home injured, or worse,” added Mr Hanna.