Leading health and safety lawyers have described claims that workplace health and safety laws will result in employees being personally liable for accidents as dangerous scaremongering.

Thompsons Solicitors, the UK's largest personal injury claimant practice and trade union law firm, described a report by the organisation Public Concern at Work, Speak Up or Pay Up, as irresponsible in claiming that the new Management of Health and Safety at Work regulations will force employees to blow the whistle on unsafe working practices or risk being personally liable for injury caused to fellow workers.

Employees have had criminal duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act for 30 years and that duty, under the Management of Health and Safety at Work regulations, has been criminally enforceable for 12 years.

Tony Lawton, head of health and safety for Thompsons said: "The fact is that these laws have existed for decades and you can count the number of prosecutions of individual employees on one hand. Employees have no money. They will not be sued. That is the whole point of vicarious liability. We are confident that the courts will continue to place the primary onus for safety issues where it properly lies, with the employers.

"While Thompsons would condemn any attempt to shift the burden of responsibility for health and safety on to individual workers, it is ludicrous to suggest that employees will have to take out personal insurance against the risk of being sued. However, the government, employers and insurance industry should be in no doubt that Thompsons and the trade unions will seriously fight any attempt to shift that burden."