When you think of a small business, you typically imagine an organisation of, say, no more than half a dozen people or a dozen at a push. Possibly it is a family business or one where the founder started as a sole trader and took on new employees when needed.

Whatever size your small business is, whilst it is great to be on friendly terms with your employees and to work together as a tight-knit team, it’s essential as the boss to occasionally stand back, put on your employer’s hat and make sure the rules and regulations applicable to the health and safety aspects of running your business, are being complied with.

One thing is sure: the overall harmony in your business may get severely tested if something goes wrong and an employee suffers an accident at work they believe was your fault!

My blog, Four Ways to Keep Your Employees Safe at Work, which provides tips on how to look after your employees in the workplace, was written as a reminder that employer liability legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act (HASAWA) 1974 applies to small businesses just as much as it does to large corporations.

So too does the common law duty of care employers owe their employees. An employer is obliged to take reasonable care to look after the health and safety of all her employees during the course of their employment. An employer’s duty to take reasonable care was helpfully explained by the judges in a court case in 1937 as being a duty to provide an employee with:

  • Competent co-workers
  • Adequate plant (tools of the trade) and equipment
  • A safe system of work, and
  • Safe Premises

A ‘breach of duty of care’ is also referred to as ‘negligence’. An employee who is injured as a result of their employer’s negligence may decide to seek legal advice from a personal injury solicitor with a view to making an accident at work claim.

Examples of accidents at work that may be the employer’s fault

Here are some examples of when an employer’s negligence may give rise to a work-related accident

  • A fellow employee who has climbed a ladder to get something from a shelf that’s high up
    accidentally causes a heavy object to fall, injuring a fellow employee.
  • A poorly maintained office chair collapses when sat on by an employee who is injured as a result.
  • An employee suffers a back injury after being asked to pick up and carry heavy items without
    being provided with a trolley or offered the assistance of a colleague.

The steps you need to take after an accident at work

If one of your employees has an accident at work, you should:

First and foremost, look after your injured worker. Make sure they get the treatment they require by calling an ambulance if the injury is severe or by getting someone to take them to A&E if less so.

Record the accident in the accident book you must keep if you have ten employees or more, or the accident book that, as a responsible employer, you should have even if you employ less than ten people. That way, you have a contemporary record of what happened and when.

If necessary, report the accident to the HSE. Certain types of accident involving specific types of injury (or death) must also be reported to the Health and Safety Executive under the RIDDOR regulations (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations).

Not all employees who get injured in accidents at work (and who believe they were not at fault) make accident at work claims against their employer. However, if they decide to claim against you or your company, you should report the matter to your
employer’s liability insurance company even if you intend to dispute liability. Then leave them to deal with the issue on your behalf. (I’m sure you know this, but just in case, by law, you must have suitable employers liability insurance if you have any employees other than those who are close family members.)

What you shouldn’t do if your employee brings a claim against you

 Try to persuade them to withdraw their claim
 Attempt to make their life uncomfortable whilst they are at work
 Threaten to sack them for claiming against you
 Sack them for claiming

Some employers become very defensive when their employees get injured at work, especially if the employee claims against them or the company. However, accidents at work claims are only successful when the cause of the accident is the employer’s fault.

The lesson to be learned when an employer’s liability claim goes against you is that there’s a need to tighten up on your health and safety procedures. Carry out thorough risk assessments, rectify issues thrown up by the risk assessments, regularly maintain your business equipment and provide your employees with appropriate training.

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