Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH)

A victory for common sense

Health and safety professionals have said that common sense has prevailed following the European Courts of Justice verdict in support of UK workplace safety law.

The European Commission’s claim that the UK had failed to implement the Framework Directive (EC 89/391) was dismissed by the European Court, meaning the tried and trusted phrase in UK health and safety law ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ can remain.

President of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), Lisa Fowlie, said:

“In terms of health and safety law the clause ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ means that employers don’t have to take measures that are grossly disproportionate to the risk. In turn, the UK courts are able to objectively assess whether employers have done everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to manage the risk. The effectiveness of this system is supported by the UK’s health and safety record, which is one of the best in Europe.

“Had the challenge against the UK been successful, employers in this country could have been treated more severely than those in Europe. Although, other member states’ laws are written in absolute terms, the courts in those countries can apply flexibility and proportionality in their judgements.”

Lisa added:

“The UK explained that our whole legal system deals with health and safety duties and liabilities through a combination of criminal and civil law. We also operate a social security system to financially support victims of workplace accidents.

“The Commission failed to show how the UK system couldn’t satisfy the Directive’s object of the ‘…introduction of measures to encourage the improvement of the health and safety of workers at work’. We hope this will be an end to these sort of challenges from Europe.

“Health and safety professionals have worked long and hard to explain the risk-based approach and to win the support of workers and employers. We feel that had the UK lost so far as is reasonably practicable, this would have been a major set-back for our sensible risk message and could have had a negative effect on public confidence in the system.”