Ask a lawyer: what do new lawyers need to know about injuries in the workplace and claiming compensation?

We've all heard of personal injury law before. But what elements are involved in a workplace injury case? Kathryn Hart, a partner at Lime Solicitors, explains. 

  • Last updated Sep 25, 2019 2:38:47 PM
  • Kathryn Hart

Jack Bauer was well-known for his death-defying stunts and hijinks in the TV show 24, but the real-life star Kiefer Sutherland was recently injured in a slightly less dramatic way. The actor and singer is currently touring Europe and slipped on the steps of his bus while in Denmark, injuring a rib which made it impossible for him to sing and caused him to cancel three gigs.  Who might guess that a singing career would prove more hazardous than saving the world (again)?

Injuries at work are not uncommon—in the UK, recent statistics from the Health and Safety Executive revealed that there were 1.4 million work-related ill health cases (new or long-standing) in 2017/18 and around 0.6 million non-fatal injuries to workers in the same period. This amounts to 30.7 million working days lost due to work-related ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries over the year. Looking at fatal injuries, 147 workers were killed in 2018/19 with falls from height causing 40 deaths and being struck by a moving vehicle causing 30 deaths over the last year. As you might imagine, agriculture, forestry and fishing saw the most deaths (32), with construction following not far behind, with 30 fatalities over the past year.

147 deaths is 147 deaths too many. Yet the UK does have one of the lowest rates of workplace fatalities across Europe: the second-lowest, in fact, according to Eurostat in 2015. Romania, France and Lithuania were at the top end. 

It is a truism that accidents will happen—especially if someone is working in a physical job or high-risk environments such as construction or agriculture. From my experience as a personal injury solicitor, defective equipment is often a key component in these sectors. Many farms rely on old equipment which is less reliable and often does not meet current safety standards. Leaving empty vehicles running to save time can be a key cause of crushing injuries and homemade adaptations to machinery can also be very dangerous. 

So, if someone is injured during the course of their work and have to take time off, what is their legal position? Firstly, it is imperative that the individual lets their employer know as soon as the accident has occurred—this should be recorded in the accident book. It is a legal obligation to have an accident book. If the injury requires medical attention a medical record could be very useful if compensation is sought at a later stage. 

Legally, most employees will be entitled to statutory sick pay, but even though the accident may have been the employer’s fault they have no obligation to pay full loss of earnings. An employee is only entitled to company sick pay if it is part of their contract. Often, this is the trigger for an employee to make a legal claim for compensation.

The first question personal injury lawyers will ask is when the injury occurred; claims can usually only be brought within three years of the accident or date of knowledge that an injury has occurred. It is also vital to establish if the accident was wholly or partially someone else’s fault and indeed whether there is an employee/employer situation. On a construction site, the main contractor may not be the person who directly employs you but they still owe you a duty of care as an employer.

Without all the details in Kiefer Sutherland’s case, it is hard to say if he was an employee or if there was a health and safety failing. If it could be proved that the bus steps were unsafe, a claim could potentially be made. 

Employers have a legal duty of care towards their employees and responsibilities to provide a safe system of work, safe fellow employees, safe equipment and adequate training.  If an employer fails in these duties then, of course, it is open to an employee to make a claim for the injuries and losses they have suffered. This claim could cover loss of earnings, but also a number of other issues such as potential future loss of earnings, care and medical treatment. I always advise my clients to keep records of all expenses incurred because of an accident. It can be very difficult to recall or indeed find them months after the accident.

So, in answer to the question, a claim for compensation can absolutely be pursued if an injury causes an employee to miss work. A good record of the accident circumstances and of the expenses incurred will, however, make my job much easier.



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