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The short answer:

Yes, if the employer or another employee was negligent in any way there will be a valid injury at work claim.  Many accidents are caused by failures in the system of work in place, which at first glance appear not to be anyone’s fault, but a closer examination of the facts can reveal it to be the fault of the employer.  For this reason the best approach is to speak to an experienced work injury solicitor who can advise as to whether there is a viable personal injury claim.

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The detailed answer:

All employers have what is known as a “duty of care” towards their employees and other people that may be affected by their actions.

If employers fail to provide this duty of care, and it leads to employees suffering injury, they will be negligent.  If an employer is found to have been negligent then they (or, more accurately, their employer’s liability insurers) must pay compensation to the injured worker.

So, what does it mean to have to provide a duty of care?  In the case of employers and employees, it breaks down to:

1. The duty to provide a safe system of work (the overall way employees are working needs to be safe);

2. The duty to provide a safe place of work (the work environment needs to be safe e.g. floors should be free of slip or trip hazards);

3. The duty to provide a competent staff of men (this basically means that other workers must be suitably trained and work safely so as not to injure other employees); and

4. The duty to provide adequate plant and material (for example, employees should have the correct PPE and the necessary tools to do their work safely).

In addition to these four duties, there are a number of statutory regulations that employers must observe.  These are sets of laws that relate to particular types of work such as

  • the Work at Height Regulations 2005, or
  • the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, or
  • the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 and so forth.

These laws emerged from EU laws which the UK as a member state had to introduce into UK law; these laws will remain in place notwithstanding the UK’s secession from the European Union, but the question remains as to whether the UK will keep level with other European countries in terms of specific health and safety regulations from this point.  In 2013 the Government introduced a new law designed to weaken these health and safety regulations but the consensus view in the legal profession remains that if employers breach these regulations they will be held to have been negligent, so employers must still comply with them.

Vicarious Liability

Employers are also liable for negligent acts of other employees, a concept known as “vicarious liability.”

What this means is that, from a legal perspective, if an employee does something negligent (or breaches one of the various statutory regulations), and doing so flowed from their employment, it is as if the employer themselves committed the negligent act.

This occurs very frequently in accident at work claims; often a worker will be let down by a team leader or shift supervisor who puts the employee in harm’s way – the concept of vicarious liability means that the employer is liable for the team leader or manager’s failings.  Note though that vicarious liability does not mean an employer will be liable for absolutely all wrongdoings by employees – the question is whether there is a close connection with the work they are doing; for example, if one employee assaults another employee outside of work, even if the assault flows from a work-related dispute, it will not necessarily be covered by vicarious liability, but if the assault took place during work and was connected to the work, the employer will likely be liable.

Practically, the importance of the employer being liable rather than just another employee is that the employer’s liability insurance will only pay out compensation for things the employer is responsible for – for things another employee alone is responsible for then that employee would need to be sued individually and then the question is whether that employee would be worth suing as an individual.

People can often be left feeling that an accident was their fault.  Frequently employers will look to blame employees for an accident, such as having a meeting afterwards in which the employee is pressured to say the accident was their fault.  We always advise that rather than being deterred by such things the best thing to do is to speak to an experienced work injury solicitor to establish whether there is a viable case or not.


James Winterbottom

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