Negligent colleague: This may seem surprising in some ways. Generally speaking, a company is not liable for basic human error leading to an injury of one of their staff, i.e. an injury that occurs not through any procedural failings or lack of training, but really is just an accident in the purest sense of the word.
However, if the injured party can prove that their employer should have recognised that the colleague that caused their injury was likely to do so, or could have been reasonably expected to do so, then it’s a different matter. Let’s say a man has been injured by a colleague who played a practical joke on him. If it was discovered that the colleague had been dismissed from previous employment for a similar reason, then it may be demonstrated that the victim’s current employer should have guessed he might have done the same thing again, and that they failed in their duty of care to their other employees by hiring him.
As an example of this, we can look at the recent story of Adam Segrave, who was badly burned when a colleague accidentally used an oxygen canister instead of one containing nitrogen to flush out the pipes of an air conditioning unit.
Mr Segrave argued that his employer had breached numerous health and safety directives in order for this to happen, but in reality his bosses at Adcock Refrigeration had not breached any rules – it was just an unfortunate human error that led to this happening. Having said that, they still expect to pay Mr Segrave compensation.
Incorrect or faulty equipment: this term covers all sorts of eventualities. Let us consider the case of Norwich bus driver Paul Herrington, who was injured when the seat of his vehicle collapsed underneath him as he set off on a journey. He fractured a vertebra and is now seeking £250,000 in compensation, as the pain in his lower limbs has become unbearable.
Even something as simple as an office chair giving way underneath a claimant’s weight may give rise to a work accident claim if their injuries are severe enough. It may not be much of a distance to fall, but if the sudden drop is unexpected and the full body weight is put on the bones of the spinal area, then a large amount of damage and pain can result.
Then there are the obvious cases, such as a worker who is electrocuted by a piece of equipment that has failed safety checks but has not been withdrawn from use, or is given the wrong tool to perform a job.
Improper training: Any employer who gives staff new to a role a quick run through their duties and then sends them on their way is asking for trouble.
To illustrate this we have the case of Paul Gelder, who was crushed by a reversing container lorry while he was attempting to manually adjust an electronic loading ramp, at a warehouse in West Yorkshire. Had his employer carried out a sufficiently thorough risk assessment, they would have spotted that this procedure could have ended in disaster. In the event, the company involved, UPS, admitted that they had no way of knowing if Mr Gelder, an agency worker, had received proper safety training. Even though it could be argued that Mr Gelder made an inadvisable personal decision to do what he did, the blame for his accident still lies with the company.
Slips and Trips: statistics obtained in July this year show that slips trips and falls make up 36% – the majority – of work accident claims in the UK. Figures compiled during 2009 showed that a total of 4.7 million working days were lost as a result of accidents at work, costing the economy dearly.
It could be argued that many of these could be avoided if people looked where they were going. However, it is more the case that it is up to employers to ensure that their staff have a safe working environment. A case recently concerned a man in a high-powered, stressful job, who was walking back to his desk at a legal firm when he tripped over a computer cable running along the length of the floor. Was this his fault? No. He was carrying files which obscured his view, and what’s more the cable was not there before. It should have been safely routed away as opposed to being laid across a main thoroughfare in the office. The same applies to spillages and recently mopped floors. Any slippery surface should be signposted immediately. Otherwise, employers are leaving themselves open to work accident claims unnecessarily.
Date Published: September 21, 2010
Author: David Brown