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Are Work Accident Claims Effective in Improving Health and Safety Standards in the Workplace?

Consideration was given for the editing and publication of this post.

\According to the most recently published statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) the number of overall workplace fatalities is in decline with 137 workers killed in the year 2016/17.

When examining deaths by accident ‘type’, those ‘struck by moving vehicle’ accounted for 31 fatalities, followed by ‘falls from height’ at 25.

When compared to the annual average of 25, accidents that involve being struck by a moving vehicle were 24% higher in 2017/18. Though it’s worth noting that these are not the final figures and that given the low numbers, there are elements of ‘randomness’ that can impact these figures year to year.

Despite this, the HSE notes that the overall reduction is worthy of merit, but statistics from more recent years suggest a ‘levelling out’:

“In statistical terms the number of fatalities has remained broadly level in recent years – the average annual number of workers killed at work over the five years 2012/13-2016/17p is 142.”

So, while great leaps have been achieved to establish the UK as one of the safest countries to work in when judged by workplace fatality statistics, there is still much that employers can do to protect their employees from the dangers of vehicle collisions. Indeed, the HSE notes in their research that:

“…it is often found that an unfortunate set of chance events have occurred together with shortcomings in safety precautions.”

Unfortunately, The Health and Safety Executive isn’t resourced well enough to check up on all employers all of the time. Self-regulation and awareness then are crucial to maintaining high health and safety standards to reduce the risk of injury and to encourage the future reduction of accidents and injury.

So what role does the law have to play in all of this?

There are good organisations who forget to enforce proper procedures, and there is also that small minority that wilfully disregard recommended practice, placing their employee’s health and wellbeing in jeopardy. In either case, the HSE often only learn of an accident or injury after it has occurred, and these tend to be serious incidents.

The law does allow employees to claim against those companies that breach health and safety guidelines where accidents do occur.

Claiming for compensation isn’t the same as self-regulation, but it does remind employers of their obligations, and it can help to improve processes and procedures to prevent fatal accidents from occurring.

While there are many tragic stories on the HSE website, one such example tells of an incident where Scaffolder, Henry Jones, was crushed by a reversing dumper truck while he was walking on a housing construction site in Knotty Ash, Liverpool, back in 2013.

The Health and Safety Executive found, after an investigation, that Redrow Homes hadn’t made any provisions to maintain the separation of vehicles and pedestrians in the area where Mr Jones was struck. As a consequence, they were fined £500,000 and ordered to pay £101,000 in costs.

A spokesperson for the HSE commented that:

“Mr Jones’ death could easily have been prevented if both the principal contractor and the sub-contractor had implemented safe systems of work and ensured that health and safety documentation was communicated and followed.”

In some cases, these gaps in health and safety procedure can lead to less severe accidents. As a consequence, work accident claims for compensation can be made that often lead to a tightening of on-site controls and management, reducing the chances of a fatal or debilitating accident from occurring.

The ideal situation, however, would be that employees recognise and spots these gaps, report them to management, and then see these vulnerabilities covered to prevent all kinds of injury, both minor and severe.

Mr Jones’ case is a rare example, but for many workers who survive accidents like these, the impact can be life-changing. Often the only recourse is to claim work accident compensation from the employer responsible; so that the victim can cover the costs of future care, medical treatment and rehabilitation.

For those who are familiar with insurance and the claims process, they may be tempted to ask whether the incentive to prevent accidents is reduced when companies are supposed to be covered for incidents like this with Employer’s Liability Insurance. Indeed, when serious accidents happen, it’s commonly the insurer who has to pay, not the employer.

We’d argue that the incentive still stands. Many insurers will only insure you comprehensively if appropriate health and safety procedures are followed. The safer your workplace is, the less likely the insurer is to have to pay out in legal costs and compensation; so employee safety is in their best interests. Similarly, safer organisations tend to attract cheaper insurance premiums. If we ignore costs and insurer interests, there’s also bad PR; no business wants to be thought of as dangerous and uncaring. Negative public opinion is often bad for business and limits your recruitment options.

Is compensation an effective measure for reducing workplace accidents then? We’d argue that indirectly, yes it is.

Self-regulation and policing from insurers to protect their interests improves employee safety as greater obligations are placed at the feet of employers to ensure they’re appropriately protected from a legal perspective.

To find out more about what is involved in claiming work accident compensation, visit www.yourlegalfriend.com