We know that the vast majority of accidents inside and outside of the workplace are not reported. We know that many people automatically assume that accidents do happen and even in the event of injury there is not necessarily anybody to blame. So, this begs the question, when is an accident not an accident?
There are genuine accidents where nobody is at fault, even if injuries have been received by one or more parties, and there is no legal route to claim compensation. This assumes that all relevant parties have fully complied with any legal obligations and done all within their means to protect individuals. If however, one or more third parties have failed to comply with their legal obligations, then there may be an opportunity to claim compensation for injuries received. It is worth noting that injuries received take in both physical and mental injuries.
Accidents in the workplace
We know from official statistics published by the Health and Safety Executive that in the financial year 2018/19 there were:
- 1.4 million working people suffering from a work-related illness
- 111 workers were killed at work
- 581,000 injuries were received in the workplace
- 28.2 million working days were lost due to workplace illness/injury
- The cost of work-related injuries was £15 billion in the 2017/18 financial year
As the UK workforce will spend the majority of their day in the workplace the UK government has brought in an array of legislation to protect employees.
Health and Safety at Work Etc Act 1974
The Health and Safety at Work Act may have been in place for some time but this is the catchall with regards to employers and their legal liability for the well-being of their employees. There are other specific acts that address individual challenges in different areas of the working community but this is the act that is primarily used when pursuing compensation. Quite simply, if an employer has not fulfilled their legal obligations to protect their workforce, resulting in injury, then they may be open to a compensation claim.
Specifics of the Health and Safety at Work Act which employers need to take into account include:
- Initial and ongoing training regarding health and safety
- Initial and ongoing training regarding specific tasks and potential dangers
- An obligation to provide relevant safety equipment
- An obligation to review potentially dangerous tasks and find alternatives where possible
- Ensuring that those carrying out potentially dangerous tasks have the relevant experience
- Providing provisions for breaks during working hours
- Ensuring all equipment is maintained correctly
- Ensuring personnel have the appropriate equipment
- Maintaining a tidy and safe working environment
- Introducing warning signs where applicable
- Maintaining a company accident book and reporting to the authorities
The above list is by no means inclusive but it does give you an idea regarding the legal obligations that employers have towards their employees. There is also a legal provision to have in place insurance to cover injuries in the workplace.
Proving liability for an accident at work
At the core of any potential accident at work compensation claim is the need to ensure that one or more third parties were negligent with regards to their legal obligations and therefore liable for any resulting injuries. In some cases, negligence will be relatively easy to prove while in others there may be more than one party involved and the defendant(s) may refute the allegations. The legal process can be long-winded at times but this is where the assistance of a personal injury solicitor can prove invaluable.
Legal protection for employees
In years gone by, we can only estimate the number of accident at work claims which were not pursued as employees were concerned about the consequences of taking their employer to court. Thankfully, in recent times we have seen the introduction of protective legislation which now allows employees to pursue legal action against their employers without fear of reprisals. While many employees still believe “there is no point” in pursuing legal action against their employer there is perhaps more to consider than just compensation.
Encouraging improvements in safety standards
In many cases, the only way to prompt companies to improve safety standards for their workforce is to hit them hard in the pocket with fines and compensation. There is nothing like a financial hit to introduce a wake-up call, review of procedures, and improvements in overall safety going forward. Even though many industries receive an array of regulatory visits throughout their lifetime, in many cases it is the day-to-day procedures that are sometimes compromised and shortcuts taken. So, anything which prompts more vigilance and a greater focus on safety must surely be welcomed?
If you take a step back and look at the situation from a distance if for example an ageing piece of equipment or outdated procedures are costing a company literally tens of thousands of pounds in compensation, what would you do? True, there may be a short-term hit to finances but in the longer term, there are potentially enormous cost savings simply by removing the threat of compensation. It is worth reminding ourselves that health and safety is not a static regulatory obligation, it changes over time and is fairly fluid. However, if you do have any concerns about health and safety in the workplace it is imperative that you voice these concerns to the relevant personnel.
Over the years we have seen many different types of long-term injuries emerge in the workforce from vibration white finger to asbestosis and mesothelioma which can often take many years to diagnose. Again, in many cases, we know that individuals suffering from these types of injury/medical conditions have in the past tended to dismiss them as consequences of their former working life. However, again this is not necessarily the case and it may be easier than many people assume to pursue compensation.
There have been significant improvements in the diagnosis of injuries such as vibration white finger and mesothelioma. It is now much easier to legally link the emergence of these medical conditions in later life to working practices which we now know were dangerous. As a consequence, while many people have thankfully been made aware of their right to pursue compensation there are still many people out there, suffering in silence.
Mental and physical injuries
As we touched on above, the vast majority of people are under the impression that you can only claim compensation for physical injuries received as a consequence of negligence by your employer. Even though it is obviously much easier to spot a physical injury as opposed to a mental injury, in the legal minefield which is UK law there is no distinction between a mental injury and a physical injury. So, where individuals have perhaps been placed under undue pressure, forced to take on more roles than they could handle, or simply allocated tasks for which they were inexperienced, there may well be the opportunity to claim compensation for mental trauma.
Work accident compensation claims
In the world of personal injury claims, there are many misunderstandings in relation to what defines negligence, what type of injuries can attract compensation, and who actually pays the compensation. It may surprise many people to learn that any compensation paid as a consequence of negligence by an employer is in the vast majority of cases covered by a liability insurance policy. There will be minimal instances where the insurance company looks to reclaim compensation from the employer, in cases of severe negligence verging on dishonesty/illegal activity, but these are relatively few and far between.
We know from past work accident compensation claims involving employers and employees that very often pressure is placed on the employee to drop a claim. Emotional blackmail, suggesting the business may close down in the event of a large compensation claim, is just one common technique used in the workplace today. While illegal and not without repercussions if proven, this type of situation seems to feed the myths which surround compensation claims. The company will not directly pay out the compensation to victims as their public liability insurance policy will cover this. There may well be an increase in premiums in the future but in reality that is not the concern of the claimant.
First of all, there are instances where for example an employer has fully complied with their legal obligations to do as much as possible to maintain the safety and well-being of their workforce. In this instance, it is difficult if not impossible to prove negligence and as a consequence liability for any injury compensation. However, where an employer has failed to fulfil their legal obligations and the various legally enforceable regulations they may leave themselves open to negligence claims and potential compensation payouts.
While compensation for injuries incurred may be vital to the claimant in their pursuit of a “normal” life in the future, each individual claim builds a cumulative pressure on the workplace and long-term improvements in health and safety. Those who have a legal right to pursue compensation for injuries received, but choose not to, are letting potential negligent parties off scot-free. The idea that it is “all about the compensation” is yet another myth encouraged by third parties with a vested interest.