I cannot remember a week like this where we have left Europe not just once, but twice. Whatever you voted, or whatever you think about Europe, we will all learn the detailed consequences of the vote to leave over the coming years. I doubt, however, if we will ever learn just how we lost to Iceland!
The area of immediate concern to me however, as a personal injury lawyer, is the potential effect of the vote on my clients, and in particular my future clients who are injured in workplace accidents.
Like it or loathe it, the European Union did produce a lot of good law and regulation; or as some would put it “pesky red tape” concerning the safety of workers. It is beyond doubt that Brussels was left-leaning, socialist or worker orientated in a lot of the regulations they passed. Whilst the Government of the United Kingdom has swung from right to left and back again over this period, the general trend coming from across the Channel was to enhance the rights of employees or burden the employer with a tsunami of health and safety regulations, depending on your view.
These health and safety directives had to be enacted in our law and were passed in series of Health and Safety Regulations, governing everything from the wearing of hard hats on building sites to the size of warning signs. Any cursory glance of health and safety at work statistics will show that these have been incredibly successful at lowering the incidence of accidents at work.
The start of it all was the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which helpfully imposed an obligation on all employers to report accidents at work that caused an injury. In that first year there were a staggering 651 worker fatalities, a figure almost amounting to genocide.
As depicted by the graph above, you can see how this figure has gradually reduced due to the aforesaid tsunami to a latest figure of 142 deaths in the latest report for the year 2014/15.
Further analysis of serious down to minor injuries produces a similar, correlating downward graph and must be applauded even by the most ardent Eurosceptic. I applaud it and doubt highly if over the last 40 years our successive governments would, if left to their own devices, have produced such figures.
So now we face a future where not only will we not be regulated to have straight bananas, or about the kind of fish we catch, but we will not have the raft of worker orientated protection measures that have produced clear safety benefits for all of us; until we elect a left leaning party, that is.
So will this mean more accidents at work? Well I for one would argue that it inevitably will.
We face at least two years of this process, where almost every law that has been passed over the last forty years or so will need to be reviewed, kept or binned. There will simply not be enough parliamentary time to do this with any debate and it will have to be done by the Government of the day which, lest there be any doubt, is not a party for the workers but is a party for the employers. They will, as my father would say “as sure as eggs are eggs” (never quite understood that one), cut through the red tape and reduce the tsunami to a babbling brook.
As evidence of my prediction I point to the recent removal of the impact of health and safety legislation brought in by the present Government, albeit when in coalition. In the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 they took away the ability for an injured worker to point to his employer’s breach of a health and safety regulation as evidence of his employer’s negligence and therefore liability to pay damages and compensation for his injuries. Click the link if you don’t believe me.
This makes winning a claim for worker’s compensation a lot harder, as we need to find evidence that the employer was actually negligent, meaning that the employer knew of the danger and did nothing to avert it. You may just have to trust me when I tell you this but as a personal injury lawyer of 28 years standing, it just is a lot more difficult to win work accident cases. This was a clear indication that health and safety breaches, that for forty years were enforced by lawyers like me taking employers to task in court, was thought of as being a pesky irritant by those who remain in power today.
And this, of course, they could get away with, sneaking it past the EU. One day, of course, a pesky lawyer like me would have a case rejected by the English courts under this rule that they would bravely take to Strasbourg and claim that the provision was incompatible with EU worker protection law and win. This would then lead to the UK government having to water down this Victorian legislation. Sadly, despite what you think, the European Courts of Justice were there as a back stop to make sure there was fair play and this will soon disappear.
The removal of this last line of appeal will worsen employee’s protection in this country and will see the line graph of death start to rise. Sounds dramatic but this is not project fear: this will be inevitable as employers face less and less regulation because the present Government leans in their favour and they will no longer have the even peskier EU court standing over them when they take out their red pen to amend the law.
Couple this of course with other recent provisions squarely aimed at suppressing the compensation claim system at the behest of the insurance industry. Court fees, for example, were uplifted by up to 600%, meaning that a widow who has lost her husband due to a death at work may now have to find £10,000 to pay to the court to start the proceedings. When this happened in the world of employment tribunals, where fees of £1,250 were imposed to take a case for unfair dismissal, the number of cases dropped by 80%.
Treble that with the proposal to increase the small claims limit to £5,000 and even remove the legal ability to claim for a soft tissue injury at all and you have a perfect storm lashing injured workers and carrying their employers off on their luxury yachts bought with the money they will save on their reduced insurance premiums.
So what’s my advice to any injured employee?
Well presently we still have a workable system where you can be looked after by decent lawyers on risk free terms and have some remaining legal protection to win your case where you are an innocent victim of your employer’s negligence whilst chasing profit. The future is not certain and will, from an injured workers perspective, get a whole lot worse.
Lampkin & Co Solicitors
Office address: Newgate House, Broughton Mills Road, Broughton, Chester, CH4 0BY. Telephone: 01244 525725. Vat registration number 736 401 842.