Accidents in the workplace

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This is a general overview of accidents in the workplace with a view to providing information that may be helpful to you as a technician. We emphasise that it should NOT be considered as authoritative legal advice. You are strongly advised to contact your solicitor or Citizens Advice Bureau for such legal help. We also do not accept any legal responsibility for any loss or damage (financial or otherwise) if you decide to act upon or fail to act upon anything that is contained in this wiki page

So what is an accident?

An accident, defined by the Health and Safety Executive1 as

"any unplanned event that results in injury or ill health of people, or damage or loss to property,
plant, materials or the environment or a loss in business opportunity"
Is this an

There are other slight variations upon this definition but we will use this one. We also briefly mention the terms "near miss", which is any incident that could have resulted in an accident as well as a "Dangerous Occurrence" which is described as a "near miss". Dangerous occurrences are defined in the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR).(Now updated as: RIDDOR - Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013)

Accident Categories

When you describe an accident, to an enforcing authority or as part of an accident report (in an accident report book), we normally place the accident into a specific category. These include;

  • Falls from height
  • Exposed to, or in contact, with a harmful substance
  • Exposed to fire
  • Physically assaulted by a person
  • Slip trips and falls on the same level

Legal recording and reporting requirements

Under the Social Security (Claims and Payments) Regulations 1979, regulation 25, employers must keep a record of accidents in premises where more than ten people are employed. It is a legal requirement. Anyone injured at work is required to inform the employer and record information on the accident in an accident book, including a statement on how the accident happened, witnesses etc....,

Note: In addition to the legal requirements imposed by RIDDOR on an employer , you must also 
ensure that all injuries, regardless of how minor they may appear to be, are properly recorded in an 
accident book. This should be kept at a central location on the premises.
Note: If you suffer a personal injury through an accident at work then you should inform your 
employer (either verbally or in writing) as soon as possible after the accident occurred. Any delay
may affect any subsequent investigation and/or claim that you wish to bring against your employer
in the future.

The employer is required to investigate the cause and enter this in the accident book if they discover anything that differs from the entry made by the employee. The purpose of this record is to ensure that information is available if a claim is made for compensation.

The HSE has produced a new Accident book BI510 in May 2003 with noted on these regulations together with the RIDDOR regulations

Whichever form of the accident book is used, the book (and therefore the information) is kept for a period of three years

Should an accident be investigated?

The idea behind investigating an accident is to provide an understanding of how and why problems arose which caused the accident in the first place. We also need an understanding of the why people take short-cuts or ignore safety rules and finally, identify any deficiencies in the control of risks within the workplace. There are legal reasons as well for carrying out an accident investigation. The Benefits of accident investigation are clearly obvious, i.e.., to prevent accidents occurring again in the futures, improve employee morale and also to prevent business loss. Should every accident be investigated in the workplace or only those that lead to a serious injury? The best advice is for an employer to investigate ALL accidents.

Making a compensation claim

If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident at work, which was not your fault and you suffer from a workplace injury, you may be able to make a personal injury claim for compensation. As with all accident compensation claims, you would need to prove that your injury, illness or disease was caused as a result of the negligence of another party (in this case your employer). Normally your solicitor will be involved in this process and can advise and help you make such a claim.

You can also make a personal injury compensation claim if your workplace accident or workplace injury was caused by the negligence of another member of staff. Consider as an example that you received an electrical shock from a kettle, or indeed any electrical device. Your claim for compensation could be valid for one or more of the following reasons. Your employer should ensure:

  • The electrical equipment was not well designed, appropriate for the job and properly maintained
  • In using electrical equipment you were not fully trained
  • You were not given proper warning of any electrical hazards
  • The equipment has no safety cut out devices
  • The culture of your workplace in terms of how it promoted good safety practices.

Keep also in mind that as an employee you have a duty of care under Sect.7 and Sect 8 of the Health an Safety at work act to look after your own Health and Safety as well as others through your acts or omissions; and to cooperate with your employer.

Section 7 of the Act states that, while at work, all employees have a duty not to 
endanger themselves or others through their acts or omissions; and to cooperate with their 
employer, e.g. by wearing protective equipment.
Section 8 also states that no person (whether an employee or not) shall misuse anything provided 
in the interests of health, safety or welfare. 

So your employer could successfully avoid liability in part or in whole if e.g..,

  • The equipment was regularly maintained and inspected and also was of sufficient quality and fit for the job.
  • You were found to be "horse-playing" around with the equipment i.e.., misusing or abusing it.
  • You brought the equipment in from home or some place else e.g.., an old electrical kettle or perhaps received discarded items of electrical equipment from another school that was never PAT tested and you did not inform your employer superior contrary to his instructions.
  • You were given correct training & instruction - you simply did not follow it!
  • You wear not wearing proper PPE gear supplied by your employer.

Under these circumstances if you were injured and tried to pursue a personal injury claim against your employer, the magistrate court may decide that you were up to 80% to blame for the accident. This would mean that you would only receive 20% of that the courts decided to award

Example of an Accident in the workplace

The following is a real instant that occured concerning a technician. The Example serves to illustrate many of the issues discussed above and the advice I provided;

"Just had an accident at work. I picked up a specific heat capacity block that had been left on all night(teacher said she had checked they were all off) Whose fault is the accident? Is it mine for not cheaking them last night? I now have a very sore hand, with only my little finger not burnt"

Whose fault is the accident? - The person at fault is the person whose negligence caused the accident. So your next question that you should be asking is; who was negligent? Well lets get the terminology correct first of all. In short, negligence is doing something you shouldn't have done or not doing something that should be done. So as part of any accident investigation we look at what are the written down safe systems of work which are derived from carrying out a risk assessment.

So who is responsible for ensuring that the specific heat capacity blocks are turned off after use in any laboratory situation? I would suggest if the teacher was using them for a particular practical that it would be he/she that should ensure that the equipment was switched off when it was not in use. Any risk assessment would highlight that these block are a potential burn hazard if left connected to the mains and that the competent and responsible person using them should know or actually be told to switch them off after use. So as mentioned the teacher is liable

You ask in your post if you have a liability yourself. If you were to make a claim through the magistrate courts the magistrate will consider your written safe systems of work together with your job role and responsibilities to determine what, if anything you are liable yourself for. I don't know anything about your job responsibilities. However, if it is anything like mine, I am supposed to isolate the mains at the mains unit each night to ensure that there is no live gas/water or electrical supply. That is written into my job duties/responsibilities. In doing this, the heater blocks would be isolated and therefore not be heating up overnight.

If I failed to isolate the power and an accident occurred at some later point in time then yes, I would, in this particular situation that we are discussing have to accept a fraction of the liability.

In a claims case, the judge may determine that both yourself and the teacher had equal liability and therefore award only 50% of any costs against your School.

My advice, if you allow me to provide this, is for your Head of Department to revisit your safe systems of work and look at what failed and why. Then ensure that any parties liable were fully aware of their responsibilities

See also

1. HSE in Northern Ireland is called HSENI - See

--Ssmith 10:17, 31 May 2010 (UTC)

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