Heroism Bill: Grayling tilts at windmills
The Justice Minister, Chris Grayling, has claimed that he is going to “Slay the health and safety culture”. Like Don Quixote, he’s bravely riding into battle with an opponent that isn’t actually there.
In an interview to the Daily Telegraph he claimed that a Bill going before the House of Commons today will mean:
“employees who do “something dumb” and hurt themselves at work will no longer be awarded damages if their bosses have taken sensible steps to keep staff safe.”
This is a line he first used last month and which was criticised in a blog here.
The Telegraph, and now the Daily Mail have printed his comments uncritically, despite it being clear to anyone who reads the Bill that it has nothing to do with what he is claiming.
The Bill is the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill, and what it does is make provision as to matters to which a court must have regard in determining a claim in negligence or breach of statutory duty. According to the Government’s own briefing, the Bill would not change the overarching legal framework, but it would direct the courts to consider particular factors when considering whether the defendant took reasonable care.
“the Government anticipates that the Bill will be relevant in a wide range of situations where people have adopted a responsible approach towards the safety of others during an activity, have being acting for the benefit of society or have intervened to help others in an emergency… It is intended to give reassurance to people that a court will take full account of the context of their actions in the event that they are sued.”
In other words, the Bill has nothing to do with the “health and safety culture”.
Yet the press are uncritically lapping up what Grayling is spouting. They also claim that the unions oppose the Bill, while all we have said is that the Bill, in its current form, is unlikely to make any difference, and the government has not given one single example of where anyone has been sued for acting “heroically”. We are however concerned that there may be unintended consequences for those workers who really are heroes like firefighters, police and ambulance workers who might potentially see claims for damages thrown out after they have acted courageously to save someone because of a misinterpretation of the new law.
According to the Telegraph, Grayling goes even further by giving “a blunt message to the trade union officials who bring thousands of negligence cases against employers every year, Mr Grayling warns that their readiness to pursue ‘every opportunity’ to take legal action is putting companies off hiring staff”. Mr Grayling said unions had “too much of an inclination to chase every opportunity” to win pay-outs for their members. Pity he did not read the report on the Compensation Myth that showed that claims had fallen by more than 50% in the past 10 years.
“My message to the trade unions would be we are fortunate in our society that we have some of the safest workplaces in the world – that’s clearly a good thing and we shouldn’t compromise on health and safety standards.”
Right! Well one of the reasons that the injury rate is lower than many other countries is that trade unions have been willing to take action for workers who are injured, forcing employers and insurers to make changes to prevent it happening to others.
Of course Grayling knows that he can make sweeping and completely misleading statements with no fear of anyone in the media actually picking him up on it because there is clearly no interest in achieving any kind of balance amongst some of the newspapers.
And of course stories about unions stopping workers being killed do not sell papers.