At first glance it may be difficult to see how a personal injury claim, and a potentially large payout, could help the business community. Even though the vast majority of personal injury claims are covered by some form of business insurance, there will be a knock-on effect to premiums and very often staff morale and client feedback. However, personal injury compensation claims do have a positive role to play with regards to health and safety and more efficient business operations.
If all personal injury claims simply resulted in a slap on the wrist and a strongly worded letter from the Health and Safety Executive, would this have an impact on business owners? The fact that serious shortfalls in health and safety procedures can lead to significant compensation payments often prompts more of a wake-up call. If businesses are hit hard in the pocket they are more likely to react to avoid similar issues going forward. So, in practice, how can personal injury claims play a positive role in business?
Review Training Procedures
We have seen a number of occasions where training procedures are written by individuals who perhaps have limited experience on the ground. They may write perfectly understandable training procedures more from a theoretical point of view as opposed to a practical standpoint. It is only when these procedures are implemented that flaws are revealed which can sometimes lead to injuries and compensation claims. When reviewing training procedures there are many issues to take into consideration such as:-
- Is there sufficient focus on practical elements as well as theoretical scenarios?
- Have company training procedures been tested on the ground?
- Do training procedures incorporate the latest health and safety regulations?
- Is there sufficient practical input/feedback from those using the training notes?
- Are there areas of ambiguity which could be made clearer?
All businesses have an obligation under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure the safe well-being of their employees and customers. Training procedures are a very important part of this legal liability on businesses. In reality, training procedures build the foundations for well-balanced, experienced skilful workers. They will also assist in reducing the number of accidents, injuries and fatalities.
Investing In Business Premises
We live in a world where profit margins can be relatively tight and investment capital even tighter. As a consequence of the regulatory burden, ever-growing competition and issues such as the minimum/living wage can all prompt business owners to delay, reduce or even ignore the need for capital investment. Unfortunately, business premises can become compromised and perhaps not as safe as they could and should be. There are a number of factors to consider when reviewing the safety of business premises such as:
- Are the premises still fit for purpose/have business activities changed in recent times?
- Safety signage is a very good reminder of the correct procedures
- Are departments and equipment arranged in a fashion which enhances safety?
- Is the structure safe and secure?
- Are business premises inspected on a regular basis by outside parties?
- Ignoring relatively simple repairs can often lead to bigger issues further down the line
- Is there a paper trail covering business premise inspections and safety regulations?
On occasion, business leaders will complain that the need for investment in premises to fulfil legal obligations and abide with regulations is non-stop. This is obviously a fair point but on the flipside of the coin, a better designed and safer business premises must surely add to efficiency, quality of work and overall profitability? In many cases the prompt repair of structural damage, introduction of safety signage and regular inspections should be seen as an investment in the future. Yes, they may require a significant investment in the short term but the potential cost savings further down the line could be enormous.
Investment In Machinery
Over the years relatively old machinery will become less efficient, often require more regular repairs and sometimes they may not be up to the safety standards of new models. Finding the opportune moment to replace machinery, ensuring maximum value for money, while improving efficiency and safety is not easy. Replacing machinery “too early” will reduce the value for money while “leaving it too late” can put the safety of employees at risk.
As a non-business owner looking in, focusing on safety, regulations and legal obligations, it can be “easy to spend other people’s money”. However, there are many issues to take into consideration such as:
- Does the older machinery fulfil current safety obligations?
- Are there simple repairs you can do to improve safety/efficiency?
- Would investment in new machinery benefit business output?
- How does your business machinery compare to competitors?
- Is the machinery inspected on a regular basis?
- Is there a paper trail of inspections to cover your legal obligations?
- Have employees reported issues with machinery?
- The regular maintenance of machinery is very important?
When looking to ensure that business machinery is as safe as possible for users, this needs to be integrated with training procedures. If for example you were to see a pattern of accidents and injuries with a specific machine this should ring alarm bells. Is the equipment working correctly? How often are repairs and maintenance carried out? Is there any way you can make the machinery safer? Does it need replacing?
Investment In Safety Equipment/Clothing
Whether you are using a large commercial lathe, mixing chemicals or even stacking shelves in a shop, it is vital that all safety equipment and clothing is in good working order. Cutting corners with regards to investment in safety equipment/clothing may not only break the law but it could lead to serious injuries and compensation claims. When you consider issues such as vibration white finger compensations claims, often associated with the use of pneumatic drills in years gone by, has led to millions of pounds in compensation payments, this highlights the need to provide adequate safety equipment/clothing. Once safety equipment/clothing is compromised it should be replaced immediately as it is effectively worthless and could be dangerous.
There are many ways in which you can ensure adequate protection is offered by safety equipment/clothing which include:
- Regular risk assessments – are you providing the correct equipment/clothing?
- Ensuring working practices/procedures identify safety equipment/clothing for specific roles
- Regular inspection of safety equipment/clothing with compromised items replaced
- Annual maintenance of machinery will highlight safety equipment such as visors which may need repaired/replaced
- Encourage feedback from staff as to whether safety equipment/clothing is adequate
There is a legal obligation for all businesses to ensure the safety and well-being of employees and this includes the supply of protective equipment/clothing. If the Health and Safety Executive was to find a business falling short in the supply of protective equipment/clothing there could be serious consequences.
Regular Risk Assessments
There are very few businesses which do not adapt and change over the years. There may be a slight tweaking of a particular procedure, change in ingredients for a particular product or a major overhaul of the services offered. As a consequence, it is vital that business owners carry out regular risk assessments and update training and safety notes. While carrying out regular risk assessments is vital, it is of no use if the findings are not used to adapt working practices and communicated to the workforce. When carrying out risk assessments the following factors should be taken into consideration:
- What are the specific risks associated with individual procedures?
- Is there a way to mitigate the risk factor?
- It is vital that employers match the experience of employees with particular activities?
- Is a particular process/procedure simply too risky to carry out?
- Appropriate safety signage should be visible at all times
- Employees ignoring safety procedures should be disciplined
There is a general consensus that the findings from regular risk assessments relate wholly to employers. In reality this is very different. While employers have an obligation to ensure the safe well-being of their employees, employees also have an obligation to act responsibly in the workplace. In the event of an accident caused by the irresponsible actions of an employee, if the employer can prove they took all reasonable precautions then liability may be difficult to prove.
Safety, Efficiency And Staff Morale
Regular assessment of working practices, training notes, inspection of business premises and investment in machinery and safety equipment will assist employers in fulfilling their legal obligations. This is seen by many employers as a drain on their capital resources when in reality it is more of an investment in the future. A safer and more up-to-date working environment can often lead to:
- Greater efficiency gains
- Improved staff morale
- The recruitment of high calibre staff
- New contracts
This is just the tip of the iceberg, but there is no doubt that regular inspections, appropriate investment and tightening of working practices and training notes is a double-edged sword. Yes, there is a capital cost to this but it will likely reduce accidents, and compensation payments, while improving the overall efficiency of the business.
There is nothing like a financial hit to focus the minds of business owners towards safety and appropriate investment in business machinery and safety equipment. In many ways the victims of accidents and injuries in the workplace have an obligation to make the authorities aware of any shortfalls. We know the process of claiming personal injury compensation has led to significant improvements in safety and employee well-being. In reality, it is not all about the compensation.