What has been done to protect 600,000 people injured at work each year?

In 2016, the Health & Safety Executive reported that there had been 621,000 non-fatal injuries to workers. According to that same report, only around 12% of accidents were officially reported (under RIDDOR) by the employer. From this data, we can calculate that around 8,000 non-fatal injuries at work occur each year in Suffolk alone (the HSE regional data showing that employers only reported 1,000 injury accidents in 2015 under RIDDOR).

Last year, over 130,000 workers received compensation from their employer’s insurer following successful claims against their employers for work-related injuries.

You would of course be forgiven for thinking that it would be a priority of your Government to ensure that workers’ rights are at least protected if not enhanced.

However, in the last 5 years, the number of claims made by injured workers has reduced by over 40,000 each year, now down to its lowest recorded level of 73,000 claims.

Therefore, a quick recap on just some of the legal reforms that have taken place since 2012 may help us identify the potential causes of this:

  • The qualifying period for protection from unfair dismissal from employment was increased from 1 year to 2 years’ continuous employment. The effect of this is that an employee injured at work during their first 2 years of service is very unlikely to make an injury claim against their employer for fear of dismissal. We often act for clients who are dismissed after making an injury claim, with the reason for dismissal being recorded as incompetency or some other non-injury related reason. This climate of fear is even greater where workers are working under zero-hour contracts/in a gig economy as employers are able to easily reduce or remove work from the injured worker as soon as an injury claim comes in without any fear of reprisal.

 

  • Employment Tribunal fees were introduced meaning workers discriminated against or unfairly dismissed/treated would have to pay fees of £1,200 or more to take their case to a tribunal. This led to a 79% drop in employment claims. Thankfully, after 4 years of prohibitive tribunal fees, the Supreme Court ruled that the tribunal fees introduced by the Government back in 2013 were unlawful and a barrier to access to justice – R (on the application of UNISON) v Lord Chancellor [2017] UKSC 51 . But have no doubt, the abolition/removal of tribunal fees would not have occurred without intervention by the independent judiciary. In fact the Government spent millions fighting this action. When asked how much taxpayer money had been spent on legal fees by in this case, the Government advised that it would be ‘disproportionate’ for it to try and collate that information. Were the tribunal fees themselves not disproportionate!? Was the millions of pounds on legal fees to fight a claim that has cost the Government even more millions of pounds not disproportionate?

 

  • Health & Safety Regulations have been weakened so that a breach of the Regulations will no longer make an employer strictly liable for injuries and losses caused as a result of that breach. The position used to be that an employer (via their insurer) would be strictly liable to pay compensation for any injury suffered by a worker as a result of a breach of the Health & Safety Regulations. This was because it was considered fairer to ensure that workers injured through no fault of their own were compensated for loss by the employer’s insurer on the basis that the relatively large loss that would be caused to the innocent individual worker would be far greater than any cost to the employer, who by law would (should) be insured. This principle goes back to the Victorian era, where the needs/losses of the individual injured worker were weighed up against the cost to the employer and the worker came out on top.  Now, a worker needs to prove that the employer was negligent. This is a much higher threshold. For example, a worker cannot simply show that he was injured by a defective machine. He must now show that the employer failed to regularly inspect and maintain that machine and that, as a result, the machine became defective and caused injury.  An employer will always be in possession of most, if not all, of the relevant evidence and, if they magically produce maintenance records leading right up to the week of the accident even though the worker knows his machine was hardly ever inspected or repaired, how is the worker going to prove this to succeed with his claim?

 

  • In addition, injured workers who do succeed with their claims are no longer able to recover all of their legal costs from the at-fault employer’s insurer. As a result, successful claimants will now usually have to pay 25-30% of their damages to their solicitor as legal costs. Therefore, even when injured workers succeed in claiming back all of their lost wages stemming from the injury, they will lose 25-30% in legal costs, despite the employer being at fault for the accident and injury.

 

  • Now, the Government is proposing to increase the small claims limit for injured workers’ claims. The increase from £1,000 to £2,000 will effectively mean that workers who suffer injuries that last less than around 3 months will not be able to recover ANY legal costs if they succeed with their claim. This means that workers will find it much harder to secure legal representation but, even where they do, their compensation will be slashed as they will have to pay all of their legal costs out of their compensation.

Therefore, in order to help the hundreds of thousands of workers injured every year, the Government has made workers more vulnerable by removing protection from unfair dismissal from many workers, introducing fees which have reduced tribunal claims against employers by 79% and making it harder for injured workers to prove their claims against employers all whilst requiring them to now pay towards their own legal costs out of their own lost earnings and injury compensation.

Theresa and her team certainly don’t seem to be BUILDING A COUNTRY THAT WORKS FOR EVERYONE. Not one ‘F’in bit!

 

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