Whether just a chair with a loose wheel or an expensive and complex lathe with a defective guard, the consequences of even the slightest defect can be truly devastating for an employee. In this article, we will discuss the duty of care of those responsible for equipment in the workplace, and how this should be managed to ensure workers are kept safe in their daily duties.
The law surrounding work equipment
The Employer’s Liability (Defective Equipment) Act 1969 was specifically designed to place a clear responsibility on employers to ensure that any items used by their workers were safe. Later, the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) made it clear that the safety of work equipment was down to the people or companies that own, operate or have control over them. This meant that it wasn’t just the employer who could be held liable, as it could be argued in some cases that the manufacturer, installer or maintenance company was at fault. Under the more recent Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, the ball is back more squarely in the court of the employer; however, it must be proven that the common law of duty of care was breached to bring a successful claim. Under PUWER, all equipment must be:
- suitable for its intended purpose
- regularly maintained to ensure safety
- only used by people who have received adequate training
- inspected by a competent worker
The Reality of Dangerous machinery
In a recent case that settled outside of court, a 29-year-old received £785,000 after he lost two fingers and suffered a psychological injury during the course of his employment.
The claimant was pulling wood through a machine saw when the machine kicked back. The saw was not fitted with a riving knife, there was no extension table, and the guard failed to prevent injury. The claimants left, non-dominant, hand was dragged back into the blade. A claim was brought against the employer on the following grounds:
(i) it was negligent and/or in breach of the Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 reg.5(i) in failing to maintain the workplace and equipment devices in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair; and causing or permitting the circular saw to be defective;
(ii) it was negligent and/or in breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 reg.11 in failing to ensure that fixed guards or other protective devices were provided for his protection;
(iii) it was in breach of PUWER reg.12 in failing to prevent him from being exposed to any risk to his health and safety from hazards. The claimant’s solicitor obtained medico-legal evidence from a consultant orthopaedic hand and wrist surgeon, a prosthesis, a consultant in pain medicine and a consultant psychiatrist.
Thanks to the evidence obtained, general damages were awarded for the following:
- Pain, suffering and loss of amenity: £45,000
- Future loss of earnings: £200,000
- Future additional cost of automatic vehicle: £15,000
- Future cost of silicone cosmetic prostheses: £59,000
- Future cost of protective prostheses: £61,000
- Future cost of i-limb digit maintenance and associated costs: £358,000
- Future DIY costs: £5,000
Special damages of £42,000 was also awarded in the settlement.
Risk Assessments are the key to safety
To ensure the safety of an item of equipment, employers must properly assess the risk of its use.
a) identifying anything that could potentially cause harm to the operator/user of the equipment
b) assess the chance of harm occurring
c) removing or reduce the risk (if it cannot be completely eliminated)
This potentially places a considerable burden on employers (or those responsible for equipment), as it is not just the obvious equipment that needs to be checked. It is important to look at all equipment within the workplace to identify hazards. Regular risk assessments by trained individuals are truly best practice, as they will ensure the ongoing safety of the work environment. Any potential hazards that are detected as part of the risk assessment process must then be mitigated. This could include repair, maintenance, improved signage, replacement, new safety protection, temporary cessation of usage, safety training, or any other action that would bring the equipment back to an acceptable margin of safety. As part of this process, it is important that employers keep records of the assessments and actions taken.
At Russell Worth Solicitors we specialise in personal injury claims. If you have suffered a workplace injury and would like a free claim assessment, please call us now on 0800 028 2060 or complete our Online Claim Assessment.