When an accident occurs in the workplace, the victim is entitled to compensation if the company – or in some cases an employee in a position of responsibility – was at fault. However, this relies on being able to satisfactorily demonstrate that the employer was indeed to blame for the accident, and this matter of blame can be complex.
Prior to 2008, it was necessary to identify an individual who could be singled out as the “lead controller” of the business before blame could be assigned. This was not entirely popular, as it was often difficult to establish negligence when a business had failed to provide a safe workplace for its employees, However, it was much easier to assign blame to smaller businesses, where business owners and directors tend to play a much more active role, than in bigger businesses where it is much harder to single out an individual.
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into force in April 2008 which now means that a business – rather than an individual in charge of the business – can be found guilty of negligence following an injury or death in the workplace.
Even if no individual is held responsible, a company or organisation can be prosecuted and face potentially hefty fines. Companies can also be forced to publish full details of the case including the nature of the accident, the judgement of their associated negligence, and the amount they paid in penalties. This kind of bad publicity can be more costly to the company than the fine itself.
Advice for Employers
As an employer, you are responsible for the health and safety of the people who work for you – as well as anybody else who visits your premises, eg members of the public, representatives of other businesses. It’s therefore your responsibility to take reasonable steps to prevent accidents and injuries in your place of business. If you fail to do this, you or your company could be faced with serious penalties.
It is therefore important to ensure that you have a comprehensive and up-to-date set of health and safety policies. These should be regularly reviewed so they don’t become outdated or get left behind by new developments in your business. You should make sure you always have an idea of who currently makes use of the workplace, whether regularly or occasionally, and make the appropriate risk assessments. Any problems in the workplace that may pose any kind of hazard should be rectified promptly.
It is also worth making sure you clearly identify all responsible parties so that, in a worst case scenario, you know who is responsible both legally and practically.
Finally, it is worth checking that your liability insurance is as comprehensive as you need it to be, and will cover you in all eventualities you can envisage.
Author: Stuart Jessop
DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic.