Key Phrase in UK's Safety Law Survives European Court Challenge

Great Britain's Health and Safety Commission welcomed the June 14 decision by the European Court of Justice that upheld a key element of the UK's health and safety law: use of the phrase "so far as is reasonably practical." Bill Callaghan, who chairs the HSC, said, "I am pleased by this outcome. The court has rejected the European Commission's claim that the use of 'so far as is reasonably practicable' does not implement the Framework Directive. Quite clearly we have been effective in protecting people, as currently we have the best occupational safety record in Europe. We continue to believe that the right way forward is a proportionate and risk-based approach protecting employees and others effectively, whilst allowing common sense to be applied when deciding on what protective measures to adopt."

The European Commission brought the case before the court, challenging the UK's implementation of European Directive 89/391/EEC, which mandates actions to improves the safety and health of workers. The commission claimed using the phrase "so far as is reasonably practicable" in section 2(1) of Britain's Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 amounts to defective, insufficient implementation of the Framework Directive, which does not contain such a qualification. Instead, the Framework Directive's Article 5(1) imposes "a duty to ensure the health and safety of workers in every aspect related to the work."

The HSC argued its phase has been enshrined in British law since before the Health and Safety at Work act was enacted 33 years ago and has been recognized in "a strong body of case law" in England. To see how Britain's 2003 fatal injury incidence rate stacked up against the 2003 rates of 14 other EU Member States at that time, visit hse.gov.uk/press/2007/c07007.htm.

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