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Sweet tangerine

The Court of Appeal's ruling on the foreseeability of risk may represent a softening of the position in favour of defendants in health and safety prosecutions, but at least it provides much-needed clarification of the law, say Gareth McManus and Mark Balysz

12 September 2011

The Health and Safety Act 1974 has been the foundation of UK health and safety law in the workplace for nearly four decades, but a number of recent cases have highlighted the difficulties in interpreting some of the most frequently invoked sections of the Act – the ‘general duties’ in sections 2 and 3.

Section 2 demands that every employer shall ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees. Section 3 requires every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.

Section 40 of the Act stipulates that, in any proceedings for such an offence, it is for the accused to discharge the burden of proving, on the balance of probabilities, that it was not reasonably practicable to do more than was done or that there was no better practicable means tha...

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