In the UK alone there were 441,000 non-fatal injuries occurring in the workplace in 2020/21 according to a Labour Force Survey reported by the HSE. More than 100k of these incidents resulted in an absence from work lasting longer than 7 days, 33% were caused by slips, trips, and falls and 18% by carrying or lifting heavy objects. When these sorts of incidents cause significant, on-going health problems for workers, it can potentially be very costly if an employer has failed to take the necessary steps to help prevent accidents like these from occurring.
Start-up businesses planning on opening an office, factory, or warehouse facility for the first time need to place health and safety measures high on their agenda. According to the HSE, workplace injuries cost British businesses £5.6 billion per year, result in 100s of prosecutions for healthy and safety offences and millions in fines from successful prosecutions.
“Whilst the law varies from one country to another, most developed countries have laws that require employers to manage health and safety risks and conduct regular risk assessments. Any business that fails to take the necessary steps to safeguard their employees could find themselves involved in lengthy and costly litigation proceedings” says John McCarthy, a specialist personal injury solicitor at McCarthy + Co.
So, what are the recommended steps a start-up business should consider, to avoid the possibility of an employee bringing a workplace accident compensation claim against them?
Ensure that you follow what the law specifies
In the UK, for example, The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSW Act) requires employers to ensure a safe environment for their employees and ensure they are not put at any risk, so far as is reasonably practicable. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to assess risks and, where necessary, take action to address them. In addition, The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 require floors to be suitable, in good condition and free from obstructions. Employees must be free to navigate around their work environment safely.
Conduct regular risk assessments
Risk assessments play an essential role in safeguarding your business from potential costly litigation in the event of a workplace accident. They enable you to identify potential causes of accidents before they happen and to take appropriate action in mitigating the risk. Businesses must ensure they have documented and provided guidance to staff on avoiding any potential hazards, even issues that may seem relatively trivial. Regular risk assessments should be carried out so that any changes are documented and guidance for staff updated.
Develop a staff wellness and safety plan
One way to help promote a safe work environment is to ensure that new staff members are given guidance and training in both their initial induction period and at regular intervals throughout their employment. An effective Staff Wellness and Safety Plan should cover all levels of employee health and safety, and staff should be encouraged to report hazardous behaviour or practices.
Ensure you have adequate staffing levels
This may be harder to achieve for some start-up businesses with limited funds, however, for any business that operates in a potentially hazardous area (factory environments, for example), it’s vital to ensure that employees are not overworked to exhaustion and encouraged to cut corners. This could lead to a serious accident that ultimately results in a costly personal injury compensation case. Avoid this scenario by hiring part-time staff, seasonal staff, and contractors to assist with workflow.
Provide safety compliance standard personal protection equipment
Again, if your business requires staff to work in any potentially hazardous area (factories, laboratories, public events, construction sites or warehouses, for example), ensure that you provide staff with PPE that meets safety compliance standards for the country you operate in. Also ensure that staff are provided with training on the correct use of goggles, face protection, hard hats, gloves, safety boots and ear protection equipment.
Ensure your workplace is kept orderly
Elect a member of staff to monitor and maintain compliance with healthy and safety issues, who ensures that other staff members are not the cause of poor housekeeping and unnecessary hazards. This person should ensure that the workplace is free of obstacles and debris, workstations are maintained to safety standards and proper signage is in place where potential hazards need to be noted.
What to do if an accident occurs
In the event an accident does happen in your business, despite best efforts to avoid one, be sure to report it immediately no matter how minor or severe it is. Document testimonies of witnesses of the accident, as this is essential to be able to refer back to in the event that an employee takes legal action. Document any other important information relating to the accident, including photographs, interviews with staff and details of information passed to the police or emergency services.
Following these processes should help your business to avoid potentially crippling personal injury compensation payouts by employees who claim their injuries were caused by your negligence.