European Court of Justice finds in the UK's favour and dismisses EC legal challenge

The UK government successfully fended off a legal challenge by the European Commission which could have obliged them to spend far more on health and safety, according to law firm DWF.

The issue centred on one of the basic tenets of UK law, that employers should take steps to safeguard the health and safety of workers ‘so far as is reasonably practical’. The EC claimed that the use of the phrase contravened the European Framework Directive on health and safety. However the European Court of Justice found in the UK’s favour and dismissed the allegations.

Steffan Groch, health and safety partner at DWF, commented: “The use of the phrase ‘so far as reasonably practicable’ has been a long standing feature of English law and predates even the Health and Safety at Work 1974. It introduces flexibility into the law, unlike in some other member states where the rules are written in absolute terms.

“If the UK government had lost the case it would have meant rewriting health and safety laws and employers would have been required to resolve all health and safety issues with no expense spared.

“The judgement vindicates the UK’s position on health and safety, as does our safety record. While care is needed in making comparisons between member states, the EU’s own figures show that, with an annual mortality rate of 1.1 per 100,000 workers, the UK has the best safety record in Europe.”