Construction/Building Site Injury Claims

The dangers of construction sites

Photo Credit: Arild Vågen

If you work in the building industry or on a construction site then you’ll already be keenly aware that the work you do can often be dangerous. The materials, equipment and procedures involved in this particular industry present an immediate threat of injury, illness or even death which simply isn’t present in many other sectors.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, the independent body tasked with ensuring workplace safety, there were 35 cases of fatal injury in the construction trade during the period of 2014/15, a figure which is higher than in any other industry.

Despite the inherent danger of the construction industry, however, the risk to life and limb imposed upon workers in the sector isn’t something which should simply be accepted. No matter what kind of employment you’re engaged in, you have the right to expect your employer to create an environment where the risk of injury or illness is reduced to the absolute minimum. This will involve the outlay and design of the actual working environment itself, the provision of safety gear, the maintenance of tools and equipment, a full and detailed programme of training, and an adherence to the strict safety rules set out when engaged in practices such as working at height (PDF).

If you’ve been injured whilst working on a building site, and feel that your personal injury was caused because another party failed to take the steps necessary to prevent it, then you may well have the right to make a claim for compensation through the no win no fee legal system.

DID YOU KNOW: Annually, around 134,000 construction workers in GB sustain an injury at work, or develop a work-related illness/disease.

The fact that your employer has a duty to make sure the building site or construction project you are working on is as safe as it possibly can be isn’t simply an expectation, it’s a legal obligation. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 sets out the duty of employers as regards the health and well-being of their staff, and an employer who fails to meet the standards set out in the Act is not only breaking the law, they are also letting the people who work for them down very badly indeed.

DID YOU KNOW: Employers found guilty of health and safety breaches in a magistrate’s court can be handed fines of up to £20,000, and/or a maximum of 12 months imprisonment. A Crown Court can impose an unlimited fine, and/or imprisonment of up to two years.

In recent years, the perception that a ‘compensation culture’ had built up, and that people were making claims based on little more than a desire to cash in on minor accidents, has led to a change of emphasis on Health and Safety Law, with policy being driven by the idea that providing safe working conditions was a type of ‘red tape’ which was holding businesses back. The Policy Paper ‘2010 to 2015 Government Policy: Health and Safety Reform’ sets out some of the changes made, including a reduction of 50% in the overall stock of health and safety legislation and a tightening up on the rules regarding civil claims for workplace compensation.

SOURCE: gov.uk

Many of the changes were based on the report written by Lord Young, entitled ‘Common Sense, Common Safety’. This report opened with the comment that: “The 1974 Health and Safety at Work etc Act has provided an effective framework for businesses and individuals for almost 40 years. Today we have the lowest number of non-fatal accidents and the second lowest number of fatal accidents at work in Europe.”

The report then went on to state that the ‘compensation culture’ was a myth, largely created by the media which fixated on a handful of unrepresentative and flawed cases, but still recommended changes to the law intended to deal with the ‘problem’. These included taking success fees of up to 25% from any compensation awarded, rather than from the losing side, and upping compensation amounts across the board by 10%.

DID YOU KNOW: In 2009-10, there were 56,175 visits by council inspectors in England to construction sites, factories and other workplaces to check that health and safety measures were being followed. By 2013-14, there were only 4,901 inspections, a drop of 91%.

This change of focus and emphasis on the part of the government and in general legislation makes it more important than ever that people who have been injured on a building site due to negligence should seek the proper compensation. Not only will this enable the individual involved to begin rebuilding their life, but it will also encourage employers to make greater efforts to ensure that conditions are as safe as they can be.

Many people are reluctant to make a claim of this kind for fear that they will be taking money from the pocket of their employer, and thus, ultimately, from their workmates. This is not the case, however, since every employer has, by law, to take out liability insurance covering them for up to £5m. Any compensation paid will be covered by this insurance, rather than coming from general funds.

Types of building site accidents

There are many ways in which someone working on a building site might become injured or ill if the right safety measures are not taken, but amongst the most common are the following:

According to the health and safety executive, 3% of workers in the construction industry sustain an injury every year, with 23% of those injured being involved in slips, trips and falls, 22% injuring themselves lifting and handling goods, 19% falling from height and 11% being struck by an object.

Whilst dramatic, one-off incidents may form the usual conception of what constitutes an injury at work, a further 3% of those involved in the construction industry report illnesses caused by their working environment, with the most common being musculo-skeletal disorders. Other illnesses linked to the construction industry include respiratory problems caused by breathing in dangerous substances and vibration white finger, a painful condition brought about by the prolonged and unsafe use of power tools.

Claiming compensation for a construction site injury

Any successful compensation claim will consist of building a case which demonstrates that you have suffered a personal injury or illness, and that this was caused because your employer failed to take all reasonable steps to make your working environment safe. The evidence supporting your claim of injury will consist of independent medical opinion, whilst demonstrating negligence will involve building as detailed a picture as possible of the environment within which the injury was sustained. Evidence supporting this might include:

The amount of compensation you may be entitled to will depend upon the severity of the injury or illness, and its impact in the future. Courts make use of actuarial data known as ‘Ogden Tables’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/245859/ogden_tables_7th_edition.pdf) to calculate the lump sum payable to compensate for the initial injury or illness, whilst the rest of the calculation will be made in order to ensure that negligent treatment doesn’t leave you financially worse off. This will include an amount designed to cover immediate expenses such as medical fees and travel costs and a sum to pay for potential future costs including any loss of earnings and the cost of any adaptation to your living space.

The overall aim of the compensation system isn’t to punish your employer, nor to ‘reward’ you. Its intention is to ensure that your suffering doesn’t continue into the future, that your injury and poor treatment has been recognised and that employers in general are encouraged to make greater efforts to preserve work place safety.

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