Back to Blog

A duty of care – A simple duty outlined

By Principal Lawyer, Occupiers and Public Liability

I have blogged previously about how we all owe each other a duty of care. I make no excuses for saying that I accept that this must be right. We must all take responsibility for our own actions. It is for society to judge us. However one only hopes that society will be understanding to the extent that we are treated reasonably if we breach this duty of care.

Obviously our actions must fit with the legal criteria as it then is. Law changes as time moves on. One hopes that the law actually changes with the time. In some cases it lags behind however, eventually it tends to catch up.By way of example therefore it can be no simple coincidence that companies who equally owe a duty of care, especially since the company acts as its own legal entity, have increased their awareness of health and safety issues both in the lead up to and after legislation which gave rise to corporate manslaughter.

There is no greater incentive to the Board of Directors than to be told by its Legal Department that if they breach legislation to such an extent that people are killed, that they personally will be held responsible. We all therefore would look to see that they both acted reasonably and in accordance with appropriate legislation.  This is not a reason for conker matches being cancelled in school and school trips being shelved due to ‘health and safety reasons’. I have blogged previously on the ridiculous interpretation of health and safety legislation and how this has been taken entirely out of context and this has to some extent, and this attitude has previously been picked up by some politicians in the hope that it will assist in gaining votes.

I was until recently on holiday in Spain. I was sitting a short while ago on a beach. The beach was crowded with holiday makers and there were excellent lifeguard facilities. It’s a well-run beach to the extent that the local police are also in attendance and it came as no surprise to me therefore that a police officer would on occasions, ride past on a quad bike.  What surprised me slightly was that the police officer on the quad bike was wearing a crash helmet.  There is no particular requirement that I am aware of, to wear a crash helmet on a quad bike. It does however make perfect sense. There is the obvious risk when riding a quad bike over sand, of toppling over, going into a deep rut etc and just because the quad bike is designed to be very stable, does not mean that it cannot overturn.

Why should the police officers therefore not wear a crash helmet? Hardly a hardship for him. He spends no more than 20 minutes every few hours on the quad bike and wearing a helmet could save his life or prevent serious injury.  This therefore is my point. Applying health and safety legislation does not mean generally spending a massive amount of money (unless health and safety has been ignored for years in which case the money would be well spent).  It is also a question of reasonableness. Buying a crash helmet probably costs no more than £30.00. For the Spanish police officer on his quad bike and it could potentially prevent him from sustaining a serious facial or head injury. I used to work with a solicitor who grew up in Madrid.  She had quite obvious facial scarring which was permanent to one side of her face. This had been caused by her in her late teens/early 20s having ridden around Madrid on her moped as many do, having come off the moped and slid forward with the moped, her face having landed on the hot exhaust.  She was knocked unconscious. She was therefore in this position for a few moments, certainly long enough to cause significant permanent facial scarring.  Had she been wearing a crash helmet (and I would always, as an ex motorcyclist myself, would recommend a full face helmet) she would have avoided injury entirely.  The logic is not difficult to understand and the same applies to health and safety legislation. It is therefore common sense for example, for there to be 1 adult for every 3 or 4 children on a school trip, that they are better able to supervise the children rather than having 1 adult for every 6 children. I have no time for people who say that health and safety legislation has gone mad. It simply has not. It is those who are interpreting it with very little knowledge or understanding, who are very much misled.

Tristan Hallam is a partner in Personal Injury Lawyer at Slater and Gordon. For a free consultation call freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we will call you.

Comments