Health and Safety at Work and the Personal Injury Compensation Culture – Has It Gone Too Far?

With the number of fatal accidents at work expected to fall during the period 2009/2010 over the previous year’s statistics, is it fair to say that the answer to the above is No? In 2008/2009 there were 131,895 accidents at work reported via RIDDOR to the HSE with 180 of them being fatalities. It is estimated that a further 114,000 or so reportable accidents simply went unreported by employers of that period according to HSE Statistics. This year’s final figures provisionally show a fall to 151 fatal accidents with the majority taking place in the Construction and Services sectors.

Health and Safety at work is governed by a number of Regulations the main set of regulations being referred to as “The Six Pack” containing the following regulations:

· The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

· Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992

· Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998

· Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992

· Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992

· Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992

These regulations have evolved from previous Acts of Parliament and EU Regulations to govern the way in which Employers take care of their employees whilst in their control at work. They govern everything from the training of new staff right through to the complexities of supplying them with equipment and how they use it.

It is often stated that Health & Safety has gone too far, it’s made the simplest of tasks so complicated and difficult to undertake due to “red tape”. However let’s look back in time a little or indeed at developing countries to see how these regulations benefit our work forces as opposed to hinder them. The regulations are there to aid the employer, to stop the dangerous practices that in the past would have killed an employee or if lucky simply injured them.

If we cast our eyes further afield and look around the world where regulations and law does not control places of work, it is easily seen that they are simply controlled by profit of the few and not the benefit of all. The lives of the employees are impoverished and are almost slaves to the profit being made by the people employing them. Working from young ages and in environments that would be deemed unfit even in the 1950′s in the UK, the profits are what rule the owners mind not the safety of their equally important employees who simply have a throw away value. This is exactly how life would still be if indeed our laws had not developed and put in place regulations to govern the way we all undertake our daily working lives. It is unfair therefore to say that we have taken it too far and given birth to a Personal Injury Compensation Culture as we are so often referred to. If the people injured before us had not made Personal Injury Claims and made the employers accountable, financially, for their negligence, and developed the laws then we would still be in an archaic system where profit rules over safety.

To understand what the regulations do in terms of assisting employers in keeping us safe at work it is important to take out of them the key individual regulations used by most personal injury lawyers when pursuing claims for personal injury.

The first set of regulations known as “The Management Regulations” set out the requirements to ensure that staff are fully trained in the tasks that they are undertaking. That the task is fully “risk assessed” in that there are written documents detailing the risks involved in the processes required to undertake the work and the preventative actions taken to stop those risks from causing accidents. Of course it is never possible to prevent accidents all together especially those which would be totally a freak of nature. The test in law is that of reasonableness. However it is important that all easily foreseeable risks are evaluated and preventative measures put in place. Most measures simply consist of thorough training for staff. Others are far more complicated and require full and detailed method statements to fulfil the task safely and without harm.

Next we consider the “Workplace Regulations” as the title suggests these relate to the environment that the company provides the employee to work in. These regulations are far more complicated and have to be applied in many different types of premises and workplaces. They do not however cover places like construction sites or places of the like where separate regulations are in place.

Regulation 5 of these regulations is what governs the condition of the workplace, equipment and the systems of work that are employed within the same. The regulation is strict and contains the word “shall”. Breach of this regulation has in common law been dealt with under strict liability which means if breached there will be no defence to any arising claim for personal injury as a result of the breach. The regulation states:

5.-(1) The workplace and the equipment, devices and systems to which this regulation applies shall be maintained (including cleaned as appropriate) in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair.

(2) Where appropriate, the equipment, devices and systems to which this regulation applies shall be subject to a suitable system of maintenance.

(3) The equipment, devices and systems to which this regulation applies are-

(a) equipment and devices a fault in which is liable to result in a failure to comply with any of these Regulations; and

(b) mechanical ventilation systems provided pursuant to regulation 6 (whether or not they include equipment or devices within sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph).

In accordance with this regulation should any accident occur due to defective premises which ought to have reasonably been repaired, or a failing piece of work equipment which causes injury a defence is not possible as no such occurrence should take place. The main piece of common Law which governs the maintenance of equipment provided by employees is a claim by a post office worker who’s defective bike caused him to fall and injure himself. The case details in brief are that the postman was riding his bike and as he went over a bump in the road the stand on the bike came down hitting the ground causing the postman to fall from his bike. The post office defended the claim in that the bike was maintained and was in fact inspected on a regular basis. Applying the regulations of the time which have evolved into the above set of regulations it was established that no matter what, if a piece of equipment becomes defective or malfunctions there is no excuse. The safety of the operative comes first. Is this a bad thing that ought to be criticised so harshly as to say it gives rise to the Personal Injury Compensation Culture and the associated “Ambulance Chasers” as Practitioners in this area of law are often referred to?

So these main regulations along with the implementation of the rest of the “Six Pack” do not give way to the harsh criticism that is placed on them, they are there solely to protect the safety of people whom on a daily basis would simply go to work and risk their lives simply to earn their own living and huge profits for their employers.

There are obviously two sides to every coin, however it would be harsh to any employer to disagree with the fact that the development of our Health and Safety policies in the UK have indeed moved both technology and safety in the workplace forward considerably.

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A Brief Introduction To The Importance Of Health and Safety At Work

It is a legal requirement for employers to follow the guidelines specified in the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974. This document was created to protect the health, safety and general welfare of employees, self-employed contractors and members of the public, including visitors to a business premises who could otherwise be adversely affected by poor health and safety conditions. This important legislation applies to every workplace in the UK without exception and since its conception in the 1970′s; the standard of health and safety in the workplace and people’s awareness of its importance has been greatly improved.

There are always risks to our safety in any environment, some more obvious and apparent than others. These risks can never be completely eliminated but when they are managed and assessed appropriately, any potential risk can be greatly reduced and the risk of accident is minimised. A safe working environment benefits both the employer and the employee and both have a responsibility to ensure they take reasonable steps to follow good practices.

Employers should arrange for regular risk assessments to be carried out, to help them pinpoint key areas of concern and make sure that all employees are made fully aware of any risks to their safety. Additional information to impart to all employees would be detailed information regarding expected safety standards, as well as the proper procedures and guidelines to be followed within the organisation.

There should be at least one basic first aid kit on site, made available in case of any minor accidents or injuries occurring. Preferably, there ought to be at least one member of staff on site with an up to date first aid qualification too. Fire extinguishers, effective fire detection and warning system and a clearly defined fire procedure are an absolute must. There should be clear signage to direct both staff and visitors to the closest exit point in an emergency situation.

The only way to check that you have an effective procedure in place for an emergency is to test it with a drill and have a skilled professional carry out a new assessment periodically to identify any issues and resolve them. Employees should be discouraged from bringing electrical equipment of their own into work buildings to be safe, because all electrical equipment should be tested and checked over by a professional. Faulty electrical equipment can present a potential fire risk. All tools, work equipment and facilities must be properly maintained to keep them in good working order and fit for their purpose.

Having a structured health and safety system in place does of course cost you as an employer. But this small cost is nothing compared to the cost incurred when accidents happen in the workplace, particularly if the accident was due to negligence and could have easily been avoided. For absolute peace of mind, identify a health and safety consultant and get professional advice to make sure you are taking care of your responsibilities and adhering to all relevant legislation.

Employees must also take responsibility for maintaining a high level of health and safety in the workplace in order to stay safe and protect others around them. An increased awareness of health and safety and a positive attitude towards safety at work encourages team morale and helps to create a happier, more productive environment for everyone.

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Health and Safety at Work – Why It Is Important

Why is it necessary?

Over 200 people are killed at work every year while several hundred thousand others suffer serious injury. Approximately 23.4 million working days were lost in 2009/10 as a result of work-related illness. The biggest cause of fatalities are falls from height and being hit by vehicles in the workplace. Meanwhile slips and trips are a very common cause of injury.

Managing health and safety effectively

Companies have to be able to manage health and safety and in doing so they need to be fully aware of the risks that are apparent in the workplace, be able to deal with those risks and ensure that the risks stay under control.

It would be unreasonable to expect an employer to eliminate all risks, it cannot be done, but what it can do is at first identify the risks and then manage them sufficiently. It does this through risk assessment which all businesses have to undertake.

In assessing the risks a company should look at each individual case and assess how serious the harm could be, who could be harmed and how likely that was. The hazards can be anything with the potential to cause harm. In considering the risk, it is not solely the employees that have to be in mind; casual workers, part-time staff and trainees all have to be borne in mind.

The law

It is law that firms with five or more employees have to keep a record of their risk assessment which includes the main hazards identified, who is most at risk and what more needs to be done and why. Though this is a legal requirement, firms do need a practical understanding of the main risks inherent in their work.

Amongst the legislation that firms will have to adhere to is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which says that firms have to ensure the health and safety of others and applies to all work activities and premises. The act states the duties that the employer has to satisfy in relation to health and safety, but also those duties which are held by employees, contractors and people in general.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 also applies to every workplace and stresses that all risks have to be assessed and modifications made if required. It also states that steps should be taken to improve safety procedures at all opportunities and that training should be given in such a way as to minimise the risks of hazardous situations occurring.

Also, all firms have to follow the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) with the firm having to report any work-related accidents, illnesses and near-miss incidents, while the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 which place a duty on employers to ensure that the workplace is safe and suitable for the tasks that are carried out there.

It is also necessary for firms to display a poster giving basic health and safety information which also lets other people, often visitors to the premises, know who the person responsible for health and safety is. Generally the bigger the firm the more information and guidance it will need with health and safety.

Other action to be taken

As well as all the action to be taken, such as risk assessments, conforming to the appropriate acts and regulations, the better firms will also discuss safety issues with their workers, allowing them to raise any issues of concern. By taking a more inclusive approach to the whole issue of health and safety, bosses can help ensure that employees take the matter seriously and that risks are minimised as a result.

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