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When an accident happens in the workplace, employees must know their rights and the options available to them. The question of liability isn't just about assigning blame - it's about understanding your rights and whether or not you can claim compensation for an accident that has affected you.

As outlined by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty of care to their workers, meaning they must make provisions to reduce hazards and take the steps necessary for upholding your rights and financial security if an accident does happen.

In the following guide, the personal injury experts at Ramsdens explain how liability is determined, what is meant by ‘contributory negligence’, and the steps you should take to report an accident.

Understanding an employer's duty of care

Duty of care refers to an employer’s obligation to maintain the health, safety, and welfare of their employees as far as they are reasonably able. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers are required to provide a safe working environment. This means conducting regular risk assessments, ensuring machinery is maintained and safe, providing adequate training and supervision, and implementing effective health and safety policies. It is a business’ responsibility to prevent accidents and occupational illnesses by taking proactive measures.

Slipping on a spill on the floor where there was no warning sign, or sustaining an injury after being asked to operate machinery without proper training are examples of accidents caused by negligence. Your employer should have systems in place to prevent such situations, including clear safety signage, regular equipment checks and comprehensive training programs for staff.

The duty of care also covers mental health. Employers should foster a working environment where stress is managed and employees feel supported. This could mean providing access to mental health resources or ensuring that workload expectations are reasonable.

When is an employer liable for an accident at work?

An employer is usually liable for an accident when they have failed to meet their legal duty of care. If it can be proven that the employer was negligent in meeting their health and safety obligations, and this negligence led to an employee's injury, the employer may be found liable.

The law takes into account what is 'reasonably practicable' for an employer to manage in terms of safety. This means the measures taken should be proportional to the risk. However, an employer cannot neglect their responsibilities simply because a safety measure would be costly or time-consuming to implement.

When an employer is liable for an accident, anyone who sustained an injury may be entitled to claim compensation. To make a claim, there must be clear evidence of the accident and the resulting injury. This underscores the importance of proper documentation and reporting. Not only do these records support a claim, but they also help to hold an employer accountable when they have failed to meet their legal obligations.

What constitutes a work-related accident?

A work-related accident is any incident that results in injury or ill health and is directly related to the tasks performed at work or the conditions in which work was carried out. This includes incidents within the workplace and those that occur in other locations, provided the employee was engaging in work-related activities.

Employee responsibilities and contributory negligence

While employers have many responsibilities, employees must also take reasonable care for their own safety and that of others. If an employee's actions contribute to their injury, this is known as 'contributory negligence' and can impact the outcome of a compensation claim, potentially reducing the amount awarded.

Reporting an accident at work

In the UK, employees should report workplace accidents as soon as possible. Employers must keep an accident book to record any incidents, which is a legal requirement for businesses with ten or more employees.

Common misconceptions about workplace accidents

Misconceptions about workplace accidents can often deter employees from claiming compensation. There are many incorrect beliefs about the process and the rights of employees that can prevent people from taking action, even though compensation could offer vital support during their recovery. Some of the most common misconceptions include:

"If I make a claim, I'll lose my job."

Many employees fear retaliation if they file a claim against their employer. However, UK employment laws protect employees from being dismissed or treated unfairly for making a claim for a work-related injury. In fact, it is illegal for an employer to terminate your employment solely because you are seeking compensation for an injury.

"Workplace accident claims are too difficult to pursue."

While the process may seem daunting, pursuing a personal injury claim can be straightforward with the right legal advice and support. Solicitors who are experienced in personal injury cases - such as those at Ramsdens - can handle the complexities of the case and guide you through each step, to ensure your claim is properly presented and your rights are protected.

"I'm not eligible to claim compensation because the accident was partly my fault."

Even if you were partially responsible for the accident, you might still be eligible for compensation. The compensation may be adjusted to reflect your part in the accident, but this does not bar you from making a personal injury claim.

"Minor injuries aren't worth claiming for."

No matter the severity of your injury, if it has impacted your life or finances, you are entitled to make a claim. Even minor injuries can result in medical expenses, loss of income, or other costs that you should not have to bear if the accident was not your fault.

"I have to start legal proceedings immediately."

While it is true that there are time limits for making a claim (generally three years from the date of the accident), you do not need to commence legal proceedings right away. It is more important to gather all necessary evidence and seek legal advice to build a strong case.

"I can handle my claim on my own."

You may be able to make a claim without legal representation, but it can be risky. Employment and personal injury laws can be complex, and employers will likely have legal representation. Professional legal support can greatly increase your chances of a successful outcome.

"I must go to court to claim personal injury compensation."

The majority of personal injury claims are settled out of court. Your solicitor will usually work to negotiate a settlement that is fair without the need for a trial. Taking a claim to court is generally a last resort if a settlement cannot be reached.

Seek help from the legal experts at Ramsdens

By understanding the truth behind these misconceptions, employees can respond to an accident at work with confidence and the knowledge that they have rights and protections under UK law. If you've had a workplace accident, it's worth discussing your situation with a solicitor who can provide tailored advice based on your circumstances.

To seek compensation or to learn more about the process of making a compensation claim, simply call our team today on 01484 821 500, or fill out an online contact form and we will be in touch at a time convenient for you.