Accidents at work
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Accidents at work
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If you have had an accident at work causing you to suffer from an injury and it was not your fault, you may be entitled to make a personal injury claim for compensation.
Your employer is responsible for your health and safety in the workplace and must take all reasonable precautions to ensure you do not get injured.
The type of injuries you can claim for are quite wide ranging – they include the obvious slips and trips, but also injuries such as repetitive strain injury and stress where your employer hasn’t done everything possible to prevent these from happening.
“For a successful accident at work claim, you need to be able to prove that your injury, illness or disease was caused by your employer’s negligence. As experienced lawyers we can help you put together your evidence and build a compelling case. Each accident at work claim is different – for some, your employers (or at least, their insurers) will want to settle before the claim goes to court. For others, the claim can be very drawn out. We do everything possible to ensure that your claim is dealt with quickly and with the minimum fuss and stress to you.”
Our lawyers are experienced in a wide range of claims from minor injuries to permanent disabilities and even fatalities.
Your employer’s duties
As set out on in our employer’s liability section below, your employer has a number of duties towards you in the workplace. These include:
- Providing the necessarily tools and machinery for you to do your job
- Providing the proper safety equipment – including safety wear such as goggles, high vis jackets, dust masks, safety boots, hard hats and ear defenders
- Providing training so employees who have to lift heavy objects know how to do this safely
- Ensuring all equipment is kept in a safe condition
- Ensuring the workplace is tidy and safe
- If you work at a desk, ensuring your environment is adjusted to minimise the likelihood of strain injuries
- If you are working at a height, your employer has specific duties to ensure your safety
These are just a few examples. Your employer has many responsibilities towards you (and towards contractors and visitors) to keep you safe from injury.
Like all personal injury claims, there are strict time limits for claiming compensation. Generally you must bring your claim within 3 years from knowing about your injury. However, we advise you to speak to us straight away if you believe that you have a claim.
How much compensation will I receive?
Compensation for an accident at work depends on what the injury is and how severe it is. The compensation will differ for injuries where you stand a good chance of making a full recovery and injuries where you are likely to experience permanent symptoms.
Some examples of successful accident at work compensation pay outs include:
- Claimant sustained a back injury at work – £40,000 compensation
- Claimant fell from machinery after inadequate training causing a lower back injury – £32,000 compensation
- Inadequately maintained safety equipment led to back injury – £20,000 compensation
- Office chair with wheels and no arms slid away as the claimant stood up, floor was dirty – claimant sustained a back injury – £18,000 compensation
- No lifting/handing training given – claimant suffered back injury – £16,000 compensation
- Object fell on claimant – claimant partially to blame (was not wearing hard hat) – £12,000 compensation
- Claimant suffered injury while trying to break up a fight between children in the playground – £11,000 compensation
- Claimant injured while making a delivery due to another’s incompetence – £10,000 compensation
- Claimant slipped on a loose stone and fell – then tripped on loose lino flooring – £8,500 compensation
- Claimant was struck in the mouth by a post when working on the roof – £8,000 compensation
- Claimant injured her knee after falling on loose carpet – £6,500 compensation
Please note that we have rounded these amounts to the nearest £500.
If you’ve had an accident at work, you may find the following websites useful.
- Health and safety executive (HSE) guide to your employer’s duties
- HSE guide to your duties as an employee
- Citizens’ Advice Bureau guide to accidents at work
- Information about Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (following an accident at work)
Here, we look in more detail at how employers are liable to their employees for accidents at work.
Employers may be liable to their employees:
(1) For breach of statutory duty; and/or (2) On the basis of common law negligence.
Regarding (2), there are a number of statutes that place duties on employers, such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Employers can sometimes be liable under both (1) and (2). It is also possible that employers can be vicariously liable for the acts of their employees that cause injury, where the employee was acting in the course of their employment and the injury was caused by a tort.
Employers can face both civil and criminal action in some cases, such as for breach of Health and Safety Regulations.
Accidents at work: Employers’ duty of care
Employers have a duty of care to take reasonable care of their employees’ health and safety in the course of their employment. What is ‘reasonable care’ in this context? An employer has a duty to exercise due care and skill in four ways – they must provide:
- competent staff,
- adequate plant and equipment,
- a safe system of work, and
- safe premises (Wilsons and Clyde Coal Co v English  AC 57).
These are each considered below:
1. The duty to provide competent staff
As noted above, an employer will be vicariously liable for the negligence of any employee that leads to another employee sustaining an injury. Employers can also be personally liable, under their common law duty of care.
The duty to provide competent staff means that an employer has a duty to take reasonable care to provide competent fellow workers.
When considering whether an employer has taken reasonable care, the court will often look at the knowledge the employer has or should have about the employee’s competence and experience.
The case of Hudson v Ridge Manufacturing Co  2 QB 348 involved an employee who, over the course of four years, had fooled around at work, including tripping up a number of people. The employee tripped up the Claimant and the Claimant sustained an injury to his wrist. The employer knew of the employee’s conduct and did nothing to prevent, so were held liable for failing to take proper care of the Claimant’s safety.
There have however been other cases where such practical jokes did not result in the employer being liable. For example, in Smith v Crossley Bros (1951) 95 Sol Jo 655; Coddington v International Harvester Co of Great Britain (1969) 113 SJ 265, the employers were not held liable as the Court found that they could not have reasonably foreseen the actions that caused the Claimant to sustain their injury.
Useful cases to review:
- Smith v Crossley Bros (1951) Current Law Year Book (1947-51) 6831 – apprentices, larking about with a compressed air pipe, succeeded in injuring one of their number – the Court of Appeal said that they were acting outside the scope of their employment and therefore the employers were not liable.
- Hudson v Ridge Manufacturing  2 All ER 229 – the Claimant’s injury had been sustained as a result of the employers’ failure to take proper steps to put an end to the fellow workman’s conduct, to see that it would not happen again and, if it did happen again, to remove the source of it.
- Harrison v Michelin Tyre Co  1 All ER 919 – “Held, that the test for determining vicarious liability was whether a reasonable man would say either that the employee’s act was part and parcel of his employment (in the sense of being incidental to it) even though it was unauthorised or prohibited by the employer, in which case the employer was liable, or that it was so divergent from his employment as to be plainly alien to it and wholly distinguish from it, in which case the employer was not liable.”
Accidents at work: employers’ duty to provide adequate plant and equipment
‘Plant’ in this case has a very wide meaning – it may be a simple office chair or a complex piece of machinery. Plant means anything that is used in the course of work. Employers can be liable where an injury is sustained as a result of, for example:
- Failing to provide plant/equipment needed to carry out the job
- Providing plant or equipment that turns out to be unsafe/inadequate
- Failing to properly maintain and renew plant/equipment
It is no excuse if an employer makes it a particular employee’s job to provide or maintain the plant/equipment as they will be vicariously liable if the employee fails in that duty.
The duty of care here is supplemented by statute – the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (1998) (SI 1998/2306).
The duty to provide adequate plant and equipment also includes safety and protective equipment like safety gloves, goggles and shoes – and the common law duty here is extended by the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (SI 1992/2966).
If the question is of whether the plant/equipment has been properly maintained, the court will look at current best practice, which inevitably differs depending on what plant or equipment is involved. The following matters may be relevant:
- Service/inspection records
- Reports that detail breakdown, defects or difficulties with operation
- Replaced parts that have become worn out, or replacement of the equipment
- What was done to remedy defective or old equipment (e.g. replacement, repair)
What is reasonable in all cases really depends on the type of equipment involved – items that are subject to ordinary day-to-day wear and tear need less maintenance than items that are, for example, crucial pieces of safety equipment.
Of note, if the employee suffers from an injury that results from a latent (hidden/not obvious) defect in the equipment, they in addition may be able to rely on the provisions of the Employer’s Liability (Defective Equipment) Act 1969 which makes the employer strictly liable. At Section 1(1) the Act states:
(1) Where after the commencement of this Act –
(a) an employee suffers personal injury in the course of his employment in consequence of a defect in equipment provided by his employer for the purposes of the employer’s business; and
(b) the defect is attributable wholly or partly to the fault of a third party (whether identified or not), the injury shall be deemed to be also attributable to negligence on the part of the employer (whether or not he is liable in respect of the injury apart from this subsection), but without prejudice to the law relating to contributory negligence and to any remedy by way of contribution or in contract or otherwise which is available to the employer in respect of the injury.
Accidents at work: employers’ duty to provide a safe system of work
Providing a safe system of work is quite a wide duty and whether it has been met depends on a lot of factors that will be different each time. A system of work includes things like, how the work is carried out, the instructions that are provided, how the building and equipment within it is laid out, what precautions are taken to ensure the safety of workers, and what notices and warnings are displayed.
As well as providing a safe system of work, the employer also has a duty to ensure that this system is complied with. It is possible for example that employees may become careless over time, particularly where the work is repetitive or monotonous (see e.g. General Cleaning Contractors Ltd v Christmas  AC 180).
Accidents at work: Employers’ duty to provide safe premises
Employers must take reasonable care to provide a safe place for the employee to work. This duty is supplemented by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (SI 1992/2004).
Providing a safe place to work includes any place that the employee is working temporarily, even if it is under the control of a third party.
The standard of care that an employer must take is explained by the judgement in Stokes v Guest Keen and Nettlefold Bolts & Nuts Ltd  1 WLR 1776:
(1) that an employer did not fall below a proper standard if he followed a recognised practice, unless it was clearly bad, but he must keep abreast of developing knowledge, and not be too slow to apply it; that an employer with greater than average knowledge of special risks might be obliged to take more than the average precautions; and that he should weigh the risk in terms of the likelihood of injury occurring and its possible consequences against the effectiveness, expense and inconvenience of the precautions;
(2) that where a medical officer was delegated a task requiring medical skill and was expected to give his advice partly on medical and partly on economic and administrative considerations, the special standards normally applicable to a doctor only applied to the medical aspect and the economic and other objects would be covered by more general principles; and
(3) that in the circumstances the doctor had been negligent in failing to institute six-monthly medical examinations of workers exposed to the risk of scrotal cancer and in failing to issue a notice calling attention to the risk, describing the symptoms and recommending reference to a doctor; and that GKN were liable for that negligence. (Paris v Stepney BC  A.C. 367 followed; Morris v West Hartlepool Steam Navigation Co Ltd  A.C. 552 followed Cavanagh v Ulster Weaving Co Ltd  A.C. 145 followed and dicta of Devlin, J. in Graham v. Cooperative Wholesale Society  C.L.Y. 1403 followed.)
Section 16 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 authorises ACOPS – Approved Codes of Practice – which state what is current good practice for particular trades, reflecting the consensus in each relevant industries. There are also guidance notes issued by the Health and Safety Executive which, although not binding, do provide a good indication of what is considered to be good practice. Where an employer does not follow such guidance, it will be very hard for them to argue that the risk in question was not foreseen.
Another point is that employers must take into account the potential gravity and likelihood of an injury. The employer then needs to consider what measures will be needed and what cost is involved. In Stokes v Guest Keen and Nettlefold Bolts & Nuts Ltd  1 WLR 1776 it is explained that an employer:
“..must weigh up the risk in terms of the likelihood of injury occurring and the potential consequences if it does; and he must balance against this the probable effectiveness of the precautions that can be taken to meet it and the expense and inconvenience they involve.”
The duty of care is owed to employees individually, which means that if a particular employees have special needs, these must be catered for (see Paris v Stepney Borough Council  AC 367 – in which the employer was held to be negligent for failing to provide goggles to a one-eyed workman, despite not needing to provide goggles to its fully-sighted employees).
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