Recording & Reporting Accidents
There can be few of us who, at one time or another in our working lives haven’t sustained some kind of injury in our places of work, or struggled with an illness brought on by what we do for a living. Whilst it is true that a certain degree of exposure to these things may well be considered a simple fact of life, it is important to recognise when our stoicism must be put to one side and we should give consideration to our legal and moral duty to ensure that, where appropriate, such occurrences are reported and recorded appropriately.
It has been a legal requirement for many years that the details of any injury occurring in a place of work are recorded in an accident book. Most, however, are not aware that following the 1999 Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, there is now a legal duty placed upon all employees to report to their employer, any situations that pose an imminent danger to health and safety.
So, it is down to all of us to maintain safe working practices; but what should you do in the event of an accident? The very first action to be taken is to ensure that the appropriate person has been notified. This may be a Safety Rep, line manager, or simply the “boss”, depending on the environment.
Ensure that person has recorded accurate details in accordance with the law. These should include dates, times and places, along with a short description of the incident and how it was reported. No matter how insignificant the issue may seem, you never know just where a minor injury or illness can lead. If any claim for compensation arises then the entry in the accident book will become something of a cornerstone to the case.
The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995, alternatively known as RIDDOR, gives some clarity by defining certain categories of incidents which must be reported to the Health & Safety Executive.
Deaths must always be reported, as must any major injuries. Such injuries may include fractures in anything other than fingers or toes, joint dislocations or limb amputations. Any loss of sight or injuries caused by electric or thermal shocks and requiring either resuscitation or hospitalisation for longer than 24 hours must always be reported to the HSE, as must asphyxia (suffocation) induced unconsciousness, or any acute illness requiring treatment as a result of the inhalation or ingestion of any substance. The responsibility for reporting these severe incidents in compliance with the legislation lies with the employer and must be done immediately.
In addition, there is also a legal obligation upon the employer to report any instances of work-related diseases and illnesses to the Health & Safety Executive. Your employer is generally notified of these by the diagnosing doctor and a report should be passed to the enforcing body within ten days, if possible.
Such illnesses include certain types of poisonings and some skin diseases such as occupational dermatitis, chrome ulcer, acne and skin cancers. Also covered are lung diseases such as occupational asthma, asbestosis, farmers’ lung, mesothelioma and pneumoconiosis. Many infections are reportable and a non-exclusive list includes hepatitis, leptospirosis, anthrax, tetanus, tuberculosis and legionellosis.
These guidelines are purely illustrative and a wide range of other conditions would also fall within this category. In general, it should be considered that any illness to which someone is unduly exposed as a result of their occupation should be reported, by the employer, under this category.
There is also a wider requirement for an employer to immediately to report any dangerous occurrences that potentially endanger either employees or the public. These may include fire and explosions, unintended collapse or failure of load-bearing parts, or the accidental release of any toxic agents likely to damage health.
The RIDDOR legislation also includes something of a “catch all” clause, in addition to the very specific categories illustrated, in that it also requires a report from the employer within ten days of any illness or condition requiring an absence, by an employee, of more than three days.
Compensation for Accidents at Work
Very often, simple accidents resulting in minor cuts and bruises can be put down to human error. The pain is minimal, the healing is rapid and there is probably little blame to be attributed. However, sometimes this is not the case and you may wish to seek compensation to help with the financial burden that a lengthy recovery will impose.
The relevant principle of law governing workplace compensation is that an employer has a duty of care towards his or her employees and if this duty has been compromised then a compensatory award is possible. The breach of the duty of care may be as a result of insufficient training, inadequate safety equipment, or any other action (or inaction) that would broadly be termed negligent.
Who to Contact
If you have union representation then the local agent should be your first point of contact. They may, in turn, refer the details on to the union legal advisors with a view to pursuing a claim.
If this option is not available then there are still many avenues open. The most obvious would be to contact one of the many legal firms offering Conditional Fee Agreements (CFA), more commonly known as ‘no win, no fee’ agreements.
These firms would offer their services in pursuing a claim and their fee would be conditional upon a successful outcome. The legal costs incurred by them would be paid separately and would not come out of any compensation award.
These services have been much improved by regulation and the best firms can now offer an effective and risk-free way of making a claim. However, as they agree to incur considerable costs on a conditional basis they will only be able to accept cases where there is a reasonable chance of success.
If your case is rejected on these grounds then advice from the local Citizens Advice Bureau should be sought. They may be able to direct you towards local Free Representation Units, often attached to law schools, which may adopt a worthy case.