Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, all employers are under a legal duty to ensure that their work premises are both safe and healthy. However, even by ensuring full compliance of this particular requirement, accidents still can (and do) happen – and often at the most unexpected of times.
Whilst most employers offer induction courses and regular training when it comes to health and safety issues, employees must always remember that they’re not only responsible for their own health and safety whilst at work, but for that of their colleagues and other visitors too.
In this article, we take a look at what you should do in the unfortunate event that you have an accident at your place of work.
What sort of rights do employees have whilst at work?
Current legislation is there to protect everyone within the work place and not just a specific group or certain individual.
Health and safety rules apply to all sorts of issues including (but certainly not limited to):
- Temperatures (both minimum and maximum)
- Lighting requirements
- Workstation set-up’s (including computer screens)
- Working with equipment and machinery
- Exposure to hazardous chemicals or substances
There are also more specific regulations which apply to certain industries and any failure to adhere to these could well lead to a prosecution being brought against either your employer, (or even yourself, if it can be proved that you’ve blatantly failed to comply with certain standards).
Ultimately, however, legislation dictates that all employers must, “…so far as is reasonably practicable” properly manage the health, safety and welfare of employees, together with any other persons who might have reason to visit the premises – such as visitors, delivery drivers and so on.
Should you have any concerns whatsoever about the health and safety aspect of your workplace then you should raise these as a matter of urgency, either with a designated person within the company or even the Health and Safety Executive.
The procedure on how to report an accident at work will naturally vary from employer to employer. However, the main requirement is that any accident or incident is reported at the very soonest opportunity. Reports are usually made to a nominated person, line manager or safety representative. Your employer should inform you at the very start of your employment who this particular person is and how you can make contact with them.
If the accident is deemed to be of a serious nature, then your employer is legally obliged to report it to the Health and Safety Executive. Less minor injuries, (such as a burnt finger or bruise), should be properly recorded in the firm’s accident book and you may be asked to sign this, just to confirm that your incident has been formally noted and that, where necessary, any remedial action has been taken to prevent it from happening again.
If your accident is such that you require medical attention, then your employer must give you sufficient time off work to get the injury or condition properly treated. Some larger employers will also have designated first-aider’s on site and these might well assist with an initial examination of any injury before recommending more specialised advice or treatment, either from your own GP or your local A&E Department.
It doesn’t matter how insignificant you might consider your injury to be at the time it occurs, you should still report it and ensure that all details are entered into the accident book. This is particularly important in cases where the condition worsens and certainly in cases where a subsequent claim needs to be made against your employer.
Finally – and whilst you might not be able to do it straight away – it’s also a good idea to obtain any evidence of the accident since this might be required at a later stage, especially if you intend to issue legal proceedings. Sources of such evidence can include photographic evidence (both of the area where the accident occurred and of any injuries you might have sustained), together with any independent witness statements. In fact, the sooner you can obtain these, the better. It’s always best to ask for a witness account whilst the incident is still fresh in everyone’s mind. It’s all too easy to simply forget detail as time goes on so, as the saying goes, strike whilst the iron’s hot!
What happens if you need to take time off work?
If you need to take time off work due to your accident or injury, then you’re legally entitled to claim Statutory Sick Pay (‘SSP’). This is the very basic legal requirement although most employers will also have their own sick pay scheme in place and, if the accident has been their fault, such payments can also be made on a discretionary basis.
What if you need to make a claim for personal injury?
If the accident results in a personal injury, then you’re perhaps well advised to make a claim against your employer. For the best advice, you should speak to a solicitor or even a union representative in the first instance, both of whom should be able to point you in the right direction.
If you’re looking to claim compensation from your employer, then you need to do this within three years of the accident date. By law, your employer must be sufficiently insured to cover any claims brought against it and you’re well within your rights to request a copy of their insurance certificate (although this should ideally be displayed in a public place around the premises).
If you decide to take further action, then remember that the aim of legal damages is to put you back into the position you would have been in had you not had the accident in the first place. This means that you can claim for two types of damages i.e. “general” damages and “special” damages. Although these often cause some confusion, there’s a very clear distinction between the two:
“General damages” are those damages you can claim for pain and suffering, any loss of promotion and/or other associated opportunities.
“Special damages”, on the other hand, are much more specific in that they relate to “actual” loss – for example, loss of earnings, travel expenses to and from your medical appointments and so on.
Special damages are much more specific than general damages they’re also much easier to quantify by the Courts. There are usually much fewer disputes over special damages than there are over general damages, since people will naturally have a difference of opinion as to the actual extent of these – added to which, of course, it can be almost impossible to put a price tag on “pain and suffering”.
In this article we’ve taken a closer look at what you should do after an accident at work. Key to almost every aspect is that you keep a very clear record of what happened and when – ideally backed up with witness evidence wherever it’s possible to obtain it.
If you’re intending to make a claim against your employer, then it’s advisable to put them on notice of this at the soonest opportunity. It may be, of course, that they’re able to offer a settlement out of Court – and without the necessity of you having to incur any initial legal expense. That said, more and more law firms are now offering a “no-win, no-fee” agreement which means that their fees (minus any disbursements, such as the Court issue fee) are only recovered once (and if) the case is successfully settled on your behalf.
Finally, if your accident has been serious and thus necessitates time off work, remember that your employer not only has to permit sufficient time off work (with the bare minimum of Statutory Sick Pay being made available in the meantime) but also has a legal obligation to make any reasonable adjustments to facilitate your eventual return to work.
Once you’re clear on your legal rights following an accident at work then this will hopefully enable you to recover, safe in the knowledge that your employer is continuing to take all steps they possibly can to facilitate your safe return to the workplace, albeit only when your GP considers it appropriate to do so.