Who would have thought that human rights could apply to health and safety?
But it does, and firmly so since 1 October last year. From that date the
European Convention on Human Rights has been legally enforceable in UK courts.
Although UK citizens have been able to use the Convention since 1950, this was
previously only possible by making a costly legal trip to the continent to the
European Court of Human Rights.
Those in Scotland have been able to enforce the Act for longer as it was
introduced into Scottish law over a year earlier, meaning that developments in
the Scottish courts have been watched with keen interest south of the border.
Now that it is easier to use the Convention, lawyers are applying it more
vigorously across many areas of the law and health and safety will be no
exception. One scenario, recently highlighted, suggested that if an employer
required a Sikh employee to shave off his beard so that he could wear close
fitting facial respiratory equipment it would be breaching the Convention.
There are, of course, other means that could be used to protect bearded
employees which would get round the problem, but it still raises an interesting
The introduction of the Convention into UK law means that it would now be
far easier for the individuals to take their case to court on human rights
grounds. Practitioners need to have full knowledge of the impact this change in
the law will have, which is why the IOSH conference next month is concentrating
on this issue.
The first successful safety case in this area is eagerly awaited, but
practitioners would be advised to take this opportunity to acquire first hand
knowledge of this important legal development, so they don’t get caught out.