Rachel Pearce, Partner and Head of Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence at Coodes Solicitors, explains the impact of an HSE investigation on a personal injury claim following a workplace accident.
If you have had an accident in the workplace, an HSE (Health and Safety Executive) investigation may follow. But what impact, if any, do these investigations have on personal injury compensation claims?
When will the HSE investigate a workplace accident?
Anyone, including the injured person or a friend or family member, can report a workplace accident to the HSE. The HSE cannot investigate every workplace accident that is reported. Instead, the Government agency prioritises the most serious cases, based on specific criteria. Broadly speaking, these would include fatal accidents or incidents resulting in particular injuries including amputations, blinding and severe burns.
At Coodes, we are currently advising clients whose workplace injuries are also being investigated by the HSE. These include a very serious fall, which has resulted in life changing injuries, and a significant accident believed to have been caused by insufficient safety measures around the use of machinery.
What is the purpose of an HSE investigation?
The purpose of an HSE investigation is to identify the root cause of a workplace accident and, where necessary, take enforcement action against the employer. The HSE is responsible for regulating health and safety law in the UK’s workplaces. It will investigate, and can prosecute for, breaches of health and safety law. If there are any criminal offences, including corporate manslaughter, the Police will become involved and are responsible for these prosecutions.
Depending on the nature of the accident, the investigation can take many months or even years to complete.
Can I claim compensation even if the HSE is not investigating my accident?
An HSE investigation and the research that your personal injury lawyer carries out for a civil case are entirely separate processes. If the HSE decides not to carry out a workplace investigation following your accident, this in no way means that you do not have a valid compensation claim.
If you have reported your accident to the HSE or the HSE are carrying out an investigation, it is important not to wait for their final response before pursuing a personal injury claim. The HSE process can be complex and time consuming. There is a limitation period for personal injury claims, which means you usually have three years from the date of the accident, or being aware of your injury, to pursue a claim. If you miss this deadline, your claim becomes statute-barred, which means it can no longer be pursued. Therefore, it is crucial not to miss this window of opportunity for a civil claim because you are waiting on the HSE.
Will the outcome of an HSE investigation affect my claim?
In some cases, the results of an HSE investigation can support a compensation claim. However, although the evidence obtained can sometimes support the claim or clarify issues in relation to liability, a personal injury claim is a separate matter and is in no way dependent on the HSE’s findings. The two investigations can run side by side and do not often interrelate.
The role of your personal injury claim solicitor is to carry out an investigation to establish breach of duty and support your claim for compensation to help you get your life back on track. This will depend on establishing that the accident was not your fault, which they will prove through a range of research documents, including witness statements. This can result in a civil claim, even if your employer is not prosecuted.
The HSE’s research may cover some of the same ground and they may, for example, seek statements from the same witnesses. Whether or not your employer pleads guilty to negligence, your personal injury solicitor can request the evidence from the HSE investigation, even if their process has stalled.
If it results in admissions of liability from your employer, the HSE’s investigation could be used as evidence in your compensation claim and may result in your receiving a more substantial pay out.
So, while an HSE investigation can support your personal injury claim, it is useful to see the two as separate processes. Crucially, the three-year deadline for a personal injury claim means you should not wait for any response or decision from the HSE before contacting a specialist solicitor for advice.
For more information or advice on these issues, please contact Rachel Pearce, Coodes Solicitors Clinical Negligence team, on 01326 318 900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.