Changes to the law to defend people from being sued who volunteer and carry out good deeds have been welcomed by the British Safety Council, following the announcement of a 'good Samaritans law'. Heroes and volunteers should not be punished if things go wrong.
Government plans to take action to support the millions of people who volunteer and carry out good deeds has been announced in today's Queen's Speech. There has been a growing perception for some time that fears of being sued and being made liable if things go wrong stops people from taking action in an emergency or volunteering for the public good.
The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill seeks to stop people facing a lawsuit for negligence if something goes wrong. The change will ensure that the courts take into account the context of an incident if a negligence case is brought.
Alex Botha, the British Safety Council's Chief Executive, said: "Planned changes to the law should help society have a more sensible relationship with both everyday and extraordinary risks. All of us benefit when individuals are enabled to take heroic actions to help others when necessary or to volunteer to serve the community. Benefits come in many forms, including realising personal aspirations, improved social capital and of course financial advantages. Understanding risk is all about weighing up the benefit of taking action with the likelihood and consequence of something going wrong.
"We must remember that these benefits, the reason why we do anything, from building flood defensives by a community, taking school children on a field trip or rescuing someone from a burning building, are a critical part of the risk equation. People should not be punished if they have acted in good faith for the benefit of society, their community or of one person who is in trouble. Of course we do not support reckless actions and risk education is an important part of this debate, but decisions sometimes have to be made in seconds. It is important that the context of any incident is taken into account by the courts."
Great Britain's health and safety system is not a prescriptive system. It places responsibility on those who create risks and enables them to control the risk in a way that is sensible and proportionate. To sue people who act in line with this approach undermines a system that has led to great improvements to our health and wellbeing at work since the inception of the Health and Safety at Work Act, 40 years ago.
The Good Samaritans bill does not seek to stop cases coming to court to address genuine negligence and changes are expected to come into effect next year.