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Overview of accidents at work

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Earning a living can be hazardous. And it’s not just occupations like firefighting and construction work that are dangerous—office work can also lead to injury. Unfortunately, many accidents happen at work—some of them more serious than others.

Employers have a duty to protect their employees from harm, to provide the correct equipment to enable them to do their job safely, and to provide a safe place of work. They have a duty to tell employees about any health and safety issues relevant to the job, and to keep a record of any workplace accidents.

Safe place of Work

Employers have a ‘duty of care’ towards employees and visitors to the workplace. This includes journeys outside the workplace on work-related business.

They have a duty to provide a safe place to work; to prevent risks to health; ensure that plant and machinery is safe to use, and that safe working practices are set up and followed.

They should provide working space that is well-ventilated, well-lit and of a comfortable temperature.

All employers, regardless of the size of the organisation, need to put up warning notices where appropriate, provide hard hats or other protective equipment to anyone entering the premises, and keep toxic chemicals or any other hazardous substances contained.

They must make sure any materials are handled, stored and used safely; provide adequate first aid facilities; tell employees about any potential hazards, and give training and supervision as needed; set up emergency plans; and make sure that ventilation, temperature, lighting, and toilet, washing and rest facilities all meet health and safety requirements.

Employers are recommended to carry out a risk assessment to identify potential health and safety hazards. They should then take steps to deal with these risks. They should also appoint a person at work to hold health and safety responsibilities. This could be a business owner or a member of staff trained in health and safety.

Employers who employ five or more people must produce an official written health and safety statement (under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974). It is advisable for employers to consult with employees and any safety committee when drawing this up, so that they are alert to any potential hazards. They must also have a formal health and safety policy.  

Sick pay

Employees who are off work following an accident may be eligible for sick pay.

How much sick pay an employee receives depends on their contract.

If there is no sick pay scheme in the employment contract then the employee will still be eligible for statutory sick pay. This starts on the fourth day that the employee is off sick and lasts for a maximum of 28 weeks. It is paid by the employer, and is a small amount (just over £75 in March 2009) per week. 

Employee’s Rights

Where an employee’s accident has been caused by the negligence of the employer (by, for example, not offering adequate training or not storing chemicals properly) then the employee may be able to make a personal injury claim for compensation. A personal injury lawyer or trade union representative can provide further advice on this. All employers must have employers’ liability insurance in case of such a compensation claim arising.

Duty to report

Employers (apart from very small companies) must keep an accident book, in which they record all accidents big and small. Employees should report any accident, no matter how small, to their line manager. The injury can then be recorded in the accident book. This book is useful as it is a record of what happened, in case there is a compensation claim, a claim for defective machinery or the employee needs to take time off work. It also helps the employer see what’s going on and take steps to stop any accidents happening again.

There is sometimes a legal duty to report accidents, diseases and dangerous incidents to the Health and Safety Executive. This is where the accident results in death or major injuries such as a broken limb, where there is a dangerous incident such as the collapse of scaffolding, where an injury prevents an employee from doing their normal work for more than three days, and where there is a work-related disease.