Health and safety has always been an important consideration for employers. Workplace health and safety laws can be strict and failure to comply could have devastating consequences, personally as well as professionally.
But according to some experts, today's "compensation culture" means compliance with health and safey legislation is more vital than ever and anyone hiring other people to work for them needs to be fully aware of their rights and responsibilities.
Laying the blame
Employers have legal obligations to ensure a safe and healthy workplace and if an accident does occur at work, an employee has every right to question how and why. If they have hurt or injured themselves as a result of something their employer has or has not done, or something they have not provided, they can seek redress.
But Stephen Leigh, an advisor at Real Compensation, believes that today legal action is being taken for "ridiculous, small things that an employee could not envisage happening".
He points out: "An increasing amount of organisations are more aware that if something happens then their employees are going to be putting in a claim."
With this in mind, having a sound knowledge of health and safety law and doing everything possible to act in accordance with them is absolutely essential if employers want to avoid litigation.
Research from the insurance firm RSA reveals that almost 12 million people have been injured at work or suffered work-related health problems in the last year. Over half of these people sued their employer.
The most common problems experienced by workers were back pain and stress, which accounted for half of all illness and injury cases.
Colin Bradbury, underwriting director at RSA, said: "This highlights the importance of risk management in safeguarding employees' health and ensuring a productive workplace."
According to Stephen Leigh, it is possible that some employers underestimated the risk of being sued by their workers, perhaps because they do not have a full understanding of what is required of them or of the rights of their employees.
Mr Leigh insists employers must do "absolutely everything in their power" to comply with health and safety laws and to ensure that their staff comply as well, because employees also have responsibilities in terms of following the health and safety guidelines and procedures put in place by their employer for their benefit.
"It's basically just complying to the health and safety regulations and ensuring that they are doing everything they can to avoid negligence. It's just the case across the board really," he states.
Training staff is essential, especially where they are required to handle potentially dangerous equipment, as employers can be held responsible if an accident happens as a result of failure to provide adequate instruction to mitigate risk, he adds.
Employment law can be a minefield, but taking the time to get to grips with it could save time, money and distress for otherwise attentive employers who want to do the best they can for their business and their staff.
Published on: August 7, 2008