Compensation culture?

A fatal industrial accident at a sewage treatment works in West Lothian at the end of January 2018, along with recently released Health & Safety Executive (HSE) statistics on work-related injuries in the UK during the 2016/17 year, serve to remind us that work can be dangerous.

137 workers were killed during 2016/17. In addition, 92 members of the public were killed due to work-related activities during the same period.

The majority of deaths arose in the construction, agriculture, manufacturing and transport sectors. More than half involved the victim being struck by a moving vehicle or falling from height.

The HSE’s statistics reveal that there were also some 610,000 non-fatal injuries in 2016/17, with the most common causes categorised as follows:

  • Handling, lifting or carrying (122,000)
  • Slip, trip or fall on the same level (111,000)
  • Struck by a moving object (53,000)
  • Contact with moving machinery (44,000)
  • Fall from height (43,000)
  • Act of violence/ physical assault (41,000)
  • Strike against something fixed or stationary (26,000)

Meanwhile, the insurance industry’s continuous campaign to persuade the public that we live in a costly “compensation culture”, driven by claimants and their lawyers, persists.

This is simply untrue. The number of claims for workplace accidents has in fact been falling, and the process of claiming compensation has become tougher.

For any accident compensation claim to be successful, the injured party has to prove that the other party has been negligent. This can be incredibly difficult. For negligence to have taken place, the incident must have been foreseeable, and the action or inactions of the defender must have led to the injury. The traditional protections in law provided by Health & Safety Regulations built up over many years have been eroded to some extent by recent legislation.

The costs incurred by the tragedy of workers being killed and injured at work are not the fault of those injured or their lawyers. The insurance industry could help by linking the charging of premiums to the actual risk of specific workplace incidents. In addition, when insurance companies unnecessarily refuse to admit liability until the very last minute, this hugely inflates the costs of litigation.

It is in everyone’s interests to work together to maintain a healthy and safe working environment for all our citizens, and to ensure people are properly compensated when they are injured.

Email David Harris
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