Knowledge Hub | Articles

16 January 2013

When accidents happen at work

Nick Hallchurch, partner in the litigation and dispute resolution team, says the number of work-related accidents is rising and more and more firms are facing hefty fines running into thousands of pounds.

Whether due to cost cutting procedures, other factors or simply a matter of coincidence, he says firms need to take care.  Here, he provides a How To Guide for employers who have to deal with the preliminary stages of an incident, in this case an employee who breaks their leg after falling from scaffolding. 

Practical steps during the incident

The focus at this stage is on the safety and wellbeing of the injured party, your staff and others who may be affected.

1. Telephone 999 for emergency services. 

2. Contact First Aiders within the organisation to assist the injured party.

3. Speak to the injured party and notify next of kin.

4. Report the incident to your insurers. If you have more than one set of insurers, report it to all of your insurers.

5. Tell your employees about what has happened.

All of these practical steps should be outlined in the organisation's emergency contingency plan and the health and safety policy.

Immediate aftermath of the incident

1. Enter the details of the incident in your accident book.

2. Visit the site and take photographs.

3. Notify the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and co-operate with any enquiries throughout.

4. Preserve any evidence for the HSE/insurance company.

5. Elect a media spokesperson and decide what strategy to adopt with the media (in the case of more serious incidents).

Intermediate measures

1. Keep a logbook of all activity with third parties.

2. Start preparing a report for the HSE (if necessary).

3. Consult with trade unions and offer counselling to the injured party and distressed employees.

4. Contact your solicitors who will be able to assess the legal implications of the incident and whether there are any possible ramifications on your insurance policy.

Long-term measures

1. Finalise the report to the HSE.

2. Identify whether there are any further training requirements and implement if necessary.

3. Review whether there are any changes that need to be made to the Health & Safety policy and the emergency contingency plan and implement these if necessary.

Why should employers take this seriously?

In 2010/2011, the HSE prosecuted 551 cases – an increase of 9% from the previous year – and of these, it secured a conviction against at least one offence in 517 cases, a rate of 94%. Duty holders found guilty of health and safety offences received fines totalling £18.6 million, and the average penalty on conviction was £35,938 per case.

It’s not only the financial implication; there can also be a criminal aspect. In the case of corporate manslaughter, both the company and managers or directors can be prosecuted and the possible penalties can be an unlimited fine and imprisonment. There has also been a rise in insurance companies repudiating liability, which means an organisation could be left with a large bill from the prosecution by HSE, claims for personal injuries by staff, damage to property etc.

All extremely good reasons to take health and safety very seriously indeed.

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