European Court upholds key UK safety phrase

The European Court of Justice dismisses the Commission's action against the
'reasonably practicable' qualification contained in the United Kingdom
legislation on the health and safety of workers.

A Community Directive on the health and safety of workers provides that the
employer has a duty to ensure the safety and health of workers in every aspect
related to work. As a derogation from that rule, Member States may provide for
the exclusion or the limitation of employers' responsibility where 'occurrences
are due to unusual and unforeseeable circumstances, beyond the employers'
control, or to exceptional events, the consequences of which could not have
been avoided despite the exercise of all due care'.

In the United Kingdom, the health and safety of workers is regulated by the
Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Under that legislation, every employer must
ensure, 'so far as is reasonably practicable', the health, safety and welfare
at work of all his employees. Failure to discharge that duty gives rise to
criminal sanctions.

As it took the view that that provision does not comply with the Directive, the
European Commission brought an action for failure to fulfil obligations against
the United Kingdom. It maintains that the United Kingdom legislation allows an
employer to escape his responsibility if he can prove that the adoption of
measures which make it possible to ensure the safety and health of workers
would have been grossly disproportionate in terms of money, time or trouble
when balanced against the relevant risk. According to the Commission, the only
derogation possible from such a responsibility is in the circumstances
expressly laid down in Article 5(4) of the Directive, a provision which, as an
exception to the general principle that the employer is responsible, must be
interpreted strictly.

The Court has dismissed the action brought by the Commission.

More information

AplusA-online.de - Source: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work