Sooner or later, the reality of your legal obligations will sink in. You may be worried about whether or not the worker will make a claim, and what the consequences of that will be for the company. You could wait to see what happens, or take control of the situation.Should you be worried? Workplace accidents can happen even at companies with the most rigorous health and safety regime. An employer may be liable if an accident is caused by a member of staff’s regulatory breach, failure to act or other negligence. Equally, an employer could be held strictly liable for defective equipment over which they have no control. A company may be held partly liable for an accident triggered by a third party, or by the injured worker themselves. You could be facing legal action in almost any scenario where an employee is injured in the course of their work. How and why you should take control Many lawyers will postpone taking formal action until they know more about the injury. This can mean waiting a month to learn whether symptoms last long enough to warrant a claim. It can also mean an even longer period of uncertainty while the injured employee is seen by independent medical specialists, to determine the extent of their injury and likely prognosis. Waiting for the possible notification of an injury claim to arrive can be stressful. This stress can easily have a negative impact on performance. Once the claim notification has finally arrived, the additional stress of waiting for an outcome or decision from your insurers can paralyse a small business. And maintaining proactive and constructive communication between all the parties involved will help to reduce uncertainty and anxiety, and is more likely to lead to a positive, uncontentious outcome. You should ensure that all formal steps are carried out as soon and as fully as possible. This can include making a full report in the company’s accident book and ensuring that CCTV footage is retained. Should you go to court? The decision to go to court will likely be out of your hands, and will be taken by the company’s insurance provider. Of this, Quittance’s personal injury director, Neil Wilson, said: “Most claims don’t go near a courtroom. Quite often, we find that it is the cases where there is a positive dialogue between employees and employers that are agreed with the least trouble and frustration. Constructive cooperation between both parties can prevent the claim process taking on a heightened emotional dimension that leads to greater confrontation.” Manage collateral damage Clear communication with your workforce is critical. Following an accident, staff may feel a range of emotions, from anxiety to anger, about the safety of the workplace and about management’s actions. When communicating with other members of staff, you should ensure that the privacy and other interests of the injured worker are respected. You should ensure not only that the causes of an accident are fully understood and rectified, but also that this process is communicated to your team in an open manner. The injured party is likely to be in informal contact with other members of staff. With reference to your insurer’s directions regarding contact, taking a transparent, comprehensive approach to communication will help to prevent rumours and confusion. Avoid PR disasters Even if a company has made best endeavours to comply with health and safety regulations, a work accident can spell trouble for the company’s public relations. Sometimes the company’s failure to respond to or manage the emerging situation following an accident can be more damning (in the public’s eyes) than the circumstances that led to the accident. People have a habit of drawing negative inference when a company fails to engage with a situation. Publically acknowledging the issue, along with any failings, is PR 101. The priority must be to re-establish trust with employees and customers. Failing to take (and be seen to take) concrete measure to prevent a repeat occurrence can lead to a negative counter-narrative taking hold. Moral obligation A work injury, whatever the severity, will be a painful and distressing experience. Time off work will add financial pressure to the injured employee. More serious injuries may leave the employee unable to work for a protracted period and there may be a need for full-time care. Employers are legally required to comply with Health and Safety regulations. Beyond this, there is a moral obligation to make best endeavours to ensure that the workplace is as safe as possible. In summary, if an employee is entitled to pursue a claim against your company, it is better to join forces with the employee to ensure they get the help and support they need. It is worth underlining the importance of a company consulting with their insurer following an accident and throughout the subsequent legal process. Written by Quittance‘s operations director, Chris Salmon. Image: Shutterstock Here are some steps you can take to protect your business and employees from injuries and illnesses in the workplace – and the subsequent claims that will arise.
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