Many self-employed people wrongly assume that because they don’t have as many rights and benefits under UK law as ‘workers’ or ‘employees’ – such as holiday pay or sick pay – that they’re unable to make a compensation claim if they’re injured at work.
However, if you provide your services on a regular basis for one specific employer and you’ve signed an agreement as a freelancer or contractor, then that employer has the same duty under UK health & safety laws to provide a safe working environment for you as they do for regular employees.
The reason behind this is that some industries – for example, construction – regularly use self-employed contractors, such as plumbers, electricians and carpenters, to carry out large amounts of work on their projects. It would be very unfair if a contractor was injured in an accident at work that wasn’t their fault, but they had no way of claiming compensation from the people whose negligence caused their injuries.
Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and other associated regulations, all employers have a duty to do all they reasonably can to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees, freelancers, contractors and other people who might be affected by their business.
So, going back to the example of a construction site, this means an employer has to ensure that any equipment provided, such as machinery or scaffolding, is safe and in good working order, and that anyone needing to use it is given the correct training beforehand.
Employers are also required to make sure your working environment is as clean as possible, and that you’re given access to:
Risk assessments need to be carried out for every element of the work done on a site, with the aim that all risks are considered, and reasonable steps taken to minimise them. Employers should also inform you of all the risks in your workplace and explain how you’re protected, as well as instructing and training you on how to deal with the risks.
If an employer breaches their duty of care and you’re injured as a result, you could make compensation claim. Under the Limitation Act 1980, you have to start your claim within three years of your accident or from when you first became aware of the seriousness of your injuries – whichever comes later.
To make a successful claim, your solicitor will need to prove that the employer was negligent. This means they’ll need to be able to show that they owed you a duty of care (employers usually will), that they breached this duty, and you were injured as a result.
In a work situation, the person responsible for your injuries would be negligent if their actions had failed to meet the standard of what a reasonable employer could be judged to do in the same situation.
If you were required to work in an environment for any length of time which was unsafe, or you weren’t given the right protective gear, equipment or training and were injured as a result, then you’re entitled to claim compensation.
To give yourself the best chance of your case being successful, you should make sure you seek medical assistance after your accident and report the incident to the correct people, so that the accident is properly logged. All employers should have an accident log book which you should be able to get access to through your supervisor or the Human Resources department.
It can also be a good idea to make a record of everything you remember about the incident, take photographs of your injuries and the equipment that caused them, and note down the name and contact details of any witnesses.
Once you have this evidence, you should speak to a specialist personal injury lawyer as soon as you can. They’ll be able to let you know whether they think you could make a successful case. They’ll also refer you to a medical expert who will assess your injuries and the effect they’ve had on your life.
Once the expert’s report is prepared, your personal injury solicitor will negotiate with those responsible for your injuries to win you the out-of-court settlement you deserve. Or, if the matter does have to go to court, they’ll help you prepare the most robust case possible and be with you every step of the way as your case goes through the courts.
The amount of compensation you receive will depend of the extent of your injuries and how long you’re expected to take to recover, but could include damages for:
Because your compensation figure depends on so many different factors which are unique to your case, it’s difficult to say exactly how much money you might receive. But to get a guideline figure, you can try our online compensation calculator.
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If you win your case, your solicitor's success fee will be taken from the compensation you are awarded - up to a maximum of 25%. Your solicitor will discuss any fees before starting your case.