Accidents in the Workplace
Duty of Care
Accidents in the workplace may take many forms. Employers are under a duty to provide a safe system of work. In other words they owe a 'duty of care' to their employees.
Duty of care means, for example:
- Providing adequate equipment to carry out the job in hand
- Providing adequate protection to ensure the safety of employees, when they carry out the job
- Providing adequate training to ensure that employees know how to do their job properly
- Providing adequate staffing levels to make sure that undue pressure is not put on to any individual employee.
If any of these criteria are not provided for, then the employer is in breach of the duty of care and would in effect be negligent and open to a legal claim for personal injury and consequential loss arising from that breach.
An employer can also be liable for the acts of other negligent employees. This is known as 'vicarious liability.'
Safeguard your position against personal injury claims
There are various ways that a caring employer can safeguard their position to prevent claims.
- Implement the Health and Safety recommendations that are made by the Health and Safety Inspectorate. The employer needs to show that he has provided appropriate training - for example manual handling to comply with Manual Handling Regulations when lifting.
- Carry out regular risk assessments to ascertain any weaknesses in the system of work and potential risks which may lead to personal injury claims.
- The employer should always provide an accident report if any accident comes to his attention. This should be recorded in the Accident Report Book. It is necessary also that the accident should be reported to the Health & Safety Executive and also to the Local Authority in the RIDDOR Report Form.
- It is also necessary for employers to identify employees who are vulnerable and unable to cope with potential workload. It is necessary for them to regularly review systems to ensure that they are providing adequate support and providing a listening ear to their employees.
Failure to identify an employee who, for example, becomes absent from work because of stress related illness brought on in the work place, would lay the employer open to potential claim.
Also if an employer, with knowledge of the situation, fails to react to a problem within the work place, and puts the employee back into the same situation which originally created the stress related problem, they would be laying themselves open to a potential claim for personal injury for stress related illness.
Prepare for the employee's absence from work
From an employment law point of view, accidents in the workplace may lead to the employee being absent from work for periods of time.
The employer should have in place properly drafted policies and procedures, such as:
- Sick pay including statutory sick pay
- Procedures for encouraging and assisting the employee's return to work
- Procedures for obtaining relevant medical information, (in appropriate circumstances for establishing the fact that the employee may never return to work)
- Procedures for discussing matters with the employee in an appropriate manner, so that any decision - including a decision to terminate the employment of the employee through ill health or injury - is taken fairly and does not lead to an Employment Tribunal claim.
- In the case of an employee who is left with a disability as defined by the legislation, the employer also needs to consider whether reasonable adjustments can be made to the employee's workstation or the nature of the employee's work, to facilitate a return. The employer should also consider whether there is an alternative job, which the employee can do.
Properly drafted procedures are very important in this area, as is an understanding of the principles which guide Employment Tribunals in determining the fairness or otherwise of dismissals which flow from the employee's absence from work, however they may have been caused.
Stress in the workplace
This has recently been acknowledged as an area where employers can be liable if they fail to take appropriate steps to protect the employee from undue stress, often related to unmanageable workloads.
We do live in an increasingly stressful world, particularly in the workplace. Information technology means that we can no longer take two or three days to deal with an issue, email brings the problem to our doorstep immediately.
Employers should consider having in place:
- Mechanisms to identify stress at an early stage
- Procedures to deal with stress..
Depending on the size and resources of the business, employers should give consideration to appropriate training to assist employees in managing stress within the workplace.
This must make sense not just to avoid claims for personal injury by employees, but also to ensure the smooth and efficient running of the business.
Duty of Care