MANY more workers will die and be injured after the Government scrapped key safety laws from the Victorian era, a North-East MP has warned.

Andy McDonald, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, condemned legislation that will make staff, rather than employers, prove the cause of an accident – even when safety rules have been breached.

The former industrial injuries lawyer said ministers had acknowledged that 70,000 cases a year would be affected by the shift, part of the Growth and Infrastructure Act.

And he said: “Work-related deaths and major injuries in the UK have been on the decline in recent years. My prediction is that trend will be reversed.

“Employers will be able to argue that an accident wasn’t their fault. It is a green light to bosses to sidestep regulations created to protect the health and safety of workers.

“There is a risk of a return to the safety standards of Victorian England. This amendment overturns law around since the Boer War.”

But the Government has insisted the shake-up was necessary to tackle “the perception of a compensation culture”, which was having a “damaging effect” on businesses.

During a Commons debate, Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat business minister, said firms should not be penalised if they have “taken all reasonable steps and have not been negligent”.

She told MPs: “The Government does not believe that it is justifiable to hold employers liable for incidents outside of their control that they could not have reasonably prevented.”

Ms Swinson insisted it would still be perfectly possible for injured workers to demonstrate that their employer had been at fault, if that was the case.

But Mr McDonald said the change swept away a court ruling, dating back to 1898, that an employer had “an absolute duty to protect a worker”.

Even if health and safety regulations had been breached, that would not be sufficient to prove negligence in a claim for compensation.

Mr McDonald said: “The burden of proving what caused an accident will now fall on the injured worker or the family of someone killed, rather than the employer.

“The worker will have to prove what the employer knew, or ought to have known, about a machine being faulty, a corridor being obstructed or a leaking roof causing a slip hazard.”

The legislation received Royal Assent as the parliamentary session ended last week, after opposition in the House of Lords crumbled.