To mark World Day for Safety and Health at Work, Demelza Pallant from our personal injury team has teamed up with Paul Venter from Osprey Health and Safety to explain why both employers and employees have a role to play in reducing accidents in the workplace…
Here in the South West, we have one of the worst records for injuries sustained in the workplace every year compared to anywhere else in the country. The figures are quite sobering to be honest, especially as we mark World Day for Safety and Health at Work.
According to the latest statistics from the annual Labour Force Survey for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), on average 66,000 workers in the region suffer a non-fatal workplace injury every year, which is significantly higher than the national picture, more than 30 percent to be precise. For every 100,000 workers in the South West, more than 2,300 people are injured. Worse still, 18 workers were fatally injured in the region in 2021/22.
But one workplace injury is one too many and clearly there is still a great deal to be done to bring this number down. While you will never eliminate the chances of having an accident at work or reduce the risk to zero, by taking a more pragmatic and proactive approach, both as a responsible employer and an employee, this stark picture can be significantly improved.
As a personal injury lawyer myself, and Paul as a health and safety consultant, we work on opposite sides of the fence. We see accidents in the workplace from two different perspectives although in many respects, we share the same perspective – that we both care for people’s health and wellbeing and prevention is better than cure.
Paul works with business owners to support health and safety training and compliance, to help businesses reduce the risk of accidents happening in the first place. But, as a specialist personal injury solicitor, I am there to support people if they find they suffer an injury at work, to help them during what can often be a very difficult time in their lives, to access rehabilitation and to get them back on their feet.
World Day for Safety and Health at Work
Every year the International Labour Organisation (ILO) observes its World Day for Safety and Health at Work – it’s an international campaign, marking its 20th anniversary year in 2023, promoting safe, healthy, and decent work. It’s supported by Governments and organisations around the globe including here in the UK.
Our government is extremely proactive when it comes to health and safety in the workplace. While some critics may see health and safety measures and legislation simply as ‘red tape’ the overwhelming majority of employers understand and truly value the importance of best practice.
In our experience, most employers recognise they have a moral duty of care to look after their employees and see the benefits of creating and nurturing an exemplary culture of good health and safety practices in the workplace.
Accidents benefit no one
Accidents benefit no one – everyone loses out following an accident in the workplace, accidents are in no one’s interest.
Every year, in the South West, 523,000 days are lost because a worker suffers an accident and must take time off, away from the business. That means both the employer and employee, and many others are affected as a result. Accidents have a long-term impact, with a vital member of staff off sick, this can be a huge burden to carry.
By far, the highest number of reported accidents and illnesses relate to stress, depression, or anxiety, closely followed by musculoskeletal disorders, in other words, injuries affecting the muscles and skeleton including bones, joints, tendons and muscles and thirdly injuries mainly affecting the back. Again, in our region, we have a higher-than-average record for many of these disorders.
In general, some of the industries that are known to have higher rates of workplace accidents include construction, agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation. It stands to reason that these industries carry more risk, especially when people are using heavy machinery or equipment, working at heights, or being exposed to hazardous materials and chemicals.
However, it’s important to note that accidents can happen in any industry, and it’s the responsibility of employers to take steps to minimise the risk of accidents and ensure the safety of their workers.
Reducing accidents in the workplace
Health and safety should be seen as part and parcel of wellbeing or looking after your staff. Most businesses place a great deal of importance on wellbeing, keeping their employees healthy and happy at work is paramount, it’s their number one priority and health and safety should be no different.
Employers should not see health and safety as something that must be done simply because of the so-called ‘red tape’ or to attain a desired accreditation, for risk assessments to be carried out just because they have a legal obligation to do so. Employers should take these steps because they genuinely care and want to go above and beyond their duty of care and standard obligations.
Businesses that choose one priority over the other are setting themselves up to fail and may well find themselves at the centre of a claim for personal injury. Taking appropriate preventative and proactive health and safety measures should go hand-in-hand with general wellbeing.
It’s not enough to just have a set of standard, ‘off-the-shelf’ templated risk assessments, policies and procedures and mitigating health and safety measures in place. They should be living, breathing documents and practical steps, that are bespoke and tailored to your own workplace and requirements. They should be reviewed and checked on a regular basis, to make sure they are fit-for-purpose, and that they actually do what they need to do.
It’s also about making sure you have the right training, safety procedures, and personal protective equipment (PPE) in place and that if someone does suffer an accident at work, that you have done all that you possibly can to have reduced the risk.
It is also important that employees report and record accidents in the workplace – often we find that when it comes to a claim for personal injury, two to three years down the line, the employer will have no knowledge, information or recollection of the accident ever happening.
Everyone has a role to play, everyone should be working together to effect change – sometimes the simple, small things can make a big difference.
If things do go wrong
It would be foolish and highly unrealistic to pretend that accidents don’t happen or that they couldn’t or wouldn’t happen in your workplace. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that things do go wrong on occasion, but it’s how you deal with that, that can make all the difference.
Simply being insured is not enough – but if an employer has taken all the right steps and done everything they possibly can to reduce the risk of accidents happening, their insurers are in a better position to defend the claim being made and ultimately the solicitors may decide not to pursue the claim further.
In many instances, we find that the employer has complied with their duty of care, and they have acted entirely appropriately. If an employer cooperates openly and transparently throughout the process that can make all the difference. As personal injury lawyers, we’re not in the business of pursuing claims that have no foundation.
Accidents affect everyone
Whenever someone has an accident, at work or otherwise, the impact can be huge. Accidents are not just a statistic – it goes without saying, they are about people – they not only affect the person concerned, but their friends and families, their employer, and their colleagues.
A workplace accident may cause injuries to other employees, witnesses who may have experienced trauma, family members who rely on the injured person for support or financial stability, and even the employer who may face legal and financial consequences.
Often those who suffer an accident suddenly find themselves being deprived of so much – their social life can be severely curtailed, and their injuries may mean they cannot go about their business in the way they were able to do so before.
For some people, they may not be able to work in the same way or even return to the job they had prior to the accident, so getting support for their future will be their number one priority.
More help and advice
Whenever someone has an accident, they are entitled to seek advice and that’s why we’re here. You need expert help and advice, to better understand where you stand and whether you have grounds for a claim to get you on the road to recovery.
As specialist personal injury lawyers, we are there throughout this process, to help you access the support or rehabilitation you need and, equally as important, to get answers to some of the questions you might have.
First and foremost, we are all about accident prevention. If you are looking for support with your health and safety obligations, then Osprey Health and Safety can help and if you do need personal injury advice, then we are here for you too. Call us on 0800 328 3282 or use our Contact Us form.