Simpson & Marwick: Personal injury claims in the workplace | Lynne Macfarlane

Simpson & Marwick


Personal injury claims in
the workplace

As a lawyer with over 15 years experience defending personal injury claims, I have dealt with a huge variety of businesses facing broadly the same set of circumstances –  an employee has sustained injury, and a civil claim has been intimated. As an employer, the effectiveness of your accident procedures is crucial to me in identifying whether a claim is capable of being defended in court: as a bare minimum, an accident report ought to have been prepared, identifying the person injured and the date of accident, how the injury occurred and to whom the injury was reported. Written signed statements from witnesses and photographs of the accident location obtained at the time of the accident are also extremely helpful. A quick referral to your employers’ liability insurer is the next step and enables further detailed investigation to take place, long before the claim gets anywhere near the court.

For some businesses, interest in matters quickly dwindles thereafter – there isn’t the manpower to assist with further investigation and production of documents required if a claim is to be defended. At the other end of the spectrum, the co-operation level may be high, but the time expended on investigation by the business is often huge, with decision makers spending hours in meetings discussing litigation when they could be more usefully and profitably employed doing their jobs.

And what about reputation? In larger businesses, word soon spreads that a colleague has been successful with a claim, with the consequence that a “claims culture” emerges. A poor record of work related accidents can have a direct effect on winning business – when bidding for contracts, it is now common place to be asked to provide details about numbers of work related accidents, civil claims and criminal prosecutions.

In my view, prevention of work place accidents must be the starting point for any successful business. The difficulty is the duties placed upon employers are myriad – an exhaustive list goes well beyond the scope of this editorial. If I were to author a book entitled “Dummies’ Guide to Preventing Workplace Accidents”, these would be the broad chapter headings.

  • Work Equipment – ensure it is suitable, maintained and
    inspected regularly. Record the outcome of inspections. If protective equipment is required, provide it and ensure it is regularly replaced.
  • Training – ensure employees using work equipment are trained
    to use it safely. Ensure the person providing the training is
    suitably qualified. Keep a record of the training and who provided the training.
  • Risk Assess – regularly assess traffic routes. Are they free from trip hazards? Is lighting sufficient? Record the outcome
    of inspections.
  • Work at Height – avoid any employee working at height
    wherever possible.
  • Manual Handling – avoid it. If that is not possible, provide lifting aids and assess the weight of each load to be lifted.

This is not an exhaustive list, by any means, but if you are able to comply with these duties as employer, you may be half way to defending any claim to follow, and more importantly, to avoiding the workplace accident altogether.