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. Therefore an employee could have a potential legal claim for personal injury
An employer can also be liable for the acts of other negligent employees. This is known as ‘vicarious liability.’ Again, these acts could lead to a potential claim by the employee.
Employee considerations in relation to a claim for personal injury
An employee will have to consider whether the employer has:
- Implemented 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. If they have not, then this could provide reason for a claim.
- Carried out regular risk assessments to ascertain any weaknesses in the system of work and potential risks, which may lead to personal injury claims. If they have not, then this could provide reason for a claim.
- Carried out regular reviews to ensure that they have identified employees who are vulnerable and unable to cope with potential workload. The reviews ensure that they are providing adequate support to their employees.
An employee could have a potential claim therefore, if:
- They become absent from work because of stress related illness brought on in the work place.
- The employer, with knowledge of the situation, puts the employee back into the same situation which originally created the stress related problem.
If you have had an accident at work, what should you do?
Employees should ensure that:
- The accident had been recorded in the firm’s Accident Report Book and it has been reported to the employer.
- The matter is reported by the employer to the Health and Safety Executive and to the Local Authority in the RIDDOR report form.
- Details of the complaints about the system of work have been logged and put in writing to the employer.
- Following injury, that the injury had been logged by the G.P. or hospital.
- Details have been obtained, where possible, of:
- Other accidents of a similar nature in the workplace.
- Any witness to the accident in question.
What if you are absent from work as a result of your accident?
Check what your contract of employment, and other employee documents say about:
- Sick pay, including statutory sick pay.
- Procedures for encouraging and assisting your return to work.
- Procedures for obtaining relevant medical information, (if you are likely to be absent for any length of time, your employer should never make final decisions about what to do without obtaining all the relevant facts. Generally the employer is entitled to expect your co-operation in this, normally at your employer’s expense).
- Procedures for discussing matters with you in an appropriate manner, so that any decision is taken fairly. This can include, in an extreme case of serious illness or injury, a decision to terminate your employment through ill health or injury. If your employer makes a hasty or ill-informed decision, you may be able to seek compensation from an Employment Tribunal* claim.
- If you are left with a disability, as defined by the legislation, reasonable adjustments that can be made by your employer to your workstation or the nature of your work, to make it easier for you to return. The employer should also consider whether there is an alternative job, which you could do.
We can advise you about the principles which guide Employment Tribunals in determining the fairness or otherwise of dismissals, which flow from the Employee’s absence from work. If necessary we can also represent you in Tribunal or other court proceedings.
Stress in the workplace
This has recently been acknowledged as an area your employer can be liable if appropriate steps are not taken to protect the employee from undue stress, often related to unmanageable workloads.
Check whether your employer has in place:
- Mechanisms to identify stress at an early stage.
- Procedures to deal with stress.
Depending on the size and resources of the business, your employer should give consideration to appropriate training to assist you in managing stress within the workplace.
If your employer is ‘on the ball’, they will recognise the need to take all necessary steps not just to avoid the risk of injury to you, but also to ensure the smooth and efficient running of the business.