Employers’ responsibilities to workers
Employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment for their employees. This covers all aspects of your job, including how and where you work. Employers’ legal responsibilities to provide a safe environment for workers are set out in various pieces of health and safety legislation including the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
Whilst the majority of employers discharge their health and safety duties and work hard to ensure their employees are working in a safe environment, a minority do not take their responsibilities sufficiently seriously.
If you suffer an injury whilst at work, or a member of your family has been injured or died as a result of a workplace incident, your employer may be held legally responsible. However, it will have to be proved that the incident giving rise to the injury/ies resulted from the employer’s breach their legal duties.
What is an industrial injury?
Industrial injuries include workplace injuries, such as broken bones, amputations, cuts and burns; as well as diseases and long term conditions that have arisen as a result of someone’s work, such as vibration white finger, asbestosis, and deafness. Any injuries or illnesses that arise because of incidents, accidents or unhealthy environments in the workplace are known as industrial injuries or diseases.
However, genuine accidents do happen. The question is: how to you prove that the injury (or condition) resulted from an employer’s negligence?
Sometimes, an industrial injury is sustained as a direct result of an employer’s failure to comply with health and safety regulations, or their duty of care towards the worker. Breaches of health and safety legislation in the workplace may manifest themselves as:
- Poor practices for manual handling
- Exposure to dangerous chemicals regulated under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHHR)
- Poor design or maintenance of the workplace
- Inadequate or no training
Illnesses and conditions
If your workplace, or the type of work you do, has caused you a disease or long-lasting condition, you are likely to be able to claim compensation from the employer. The most notable cases involving industrial disease relates to asbestosis and vibration white finger. It may be many years, sometimes decades, before a victim becomes aware they are suffering from a condition as a result of the work they have undertaken – but they can still make a claim once they do become aware.
If you believe your injury or condition was caused by your employer’s negligence, you may be able to make a claim for personal compensation against them. You may also be eligible to claim Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit. If a close family member has died as a result of an incident at work, you may still be able to claim compensation.
To make a successful claim, you will need to show that the accident or condition was caused because the employer failed to provide a safe working environment in law. In other words, you will have to show the employer was negligent in discharging their legal obligations. You must also show the injury or condition or illness was caused by the employer’s negligence, or failure to provide a safe working environment.
What should I do?
Seek legal advice from a personal injury solicitor as soon as possible after your injury, or as soon as you become aware of the injury, illness or condition. You should also see your doctor if you have not already done so: medical notes will be important evidence in support of your claim. You will most likely have to have an expert medical report form a doctor in support of your claim.
If you have suffered an injury at work, it is vital to ensure the accident log book is, or has been completed and the health and safety executive is informed as appropriate. Your employer is legally required to report to the HSE work related incidents that lead to death, major injuries (such as broken bones); dangerous incidents such as the collapse of scaffolding, people overcome by gas; any other injury that stops an employee from doing their normal work for more than three days; and diseases. You should check that your employer has done this.
Record as much information as you can about the injury and the workplace, taking photographs if at all possible. Record the names and details of any witnesses to the accident; and of any colleagues (or visitors in the workplace) who have themselves witnessed or experienced poor working conditions. The more evidence you can disclose to support your case, the higher your chances of success.
The employer may admit responsibility for the injury or condition and be prepared to settle your claim. If they don’t, you may be advised to make a formal claim to the court for compensation – something the employer is likely to wish to avoid because of the reputational damage.
If your claim is successful, you will be awarded General Damages which compensate you for include the general pain and suffering that you’ve experienced, as well as the inability to carry out certain aspects of your life because of the injury, such as employment.
Special Damages are intended to compensate you for any specific financial cost that the injury has caused you. You should therefore keep records of any expenses that you’ve occurred because of the injury, for instance, travel costs, medical treatment and prescription costs.
If you are a relative making a claim following the death of a loved one, an award may also include funeral expenses, as well as taking into account the deceased’s financial contribution to the home.