Accidents when working at heights and personal injury claims in Northern Ireland

Working at height can be dangerous, and accidents can result in serious injuries or fatalities. In the UK falls from heights accounted for 29% of all fatal accidents in the workplace in 2020 – 2021. In Australia the figure was 29% (2019). Since 2020, falls have killed nine workers carrying out construction work at height in Northern Ireland.

Common causes of accidents when working from heights

These include:

  • Lack of Proper Training: Workers who are not adequately trained in working at height procedures and safety precautions are more likely to make mistakes that lead to accidents. Employers may not emphasise the importance of training and may not dedicate sufficient resources to it. Workers who work at height over long periods may become complacent about the risks and refresher courses and reminders will assist in emphasising the importance of good practice when working at heights.
  • Inadequate Risk Assessment: Failure to properly assess the risks associated with a specific task or location can result in accidents. Each job should have a risk assessment conducted, and safety measures should be tailored to the identified risks.
  • Improper Equipment Use: Incorrect use or maintenance of equipment, such as ladders, scaffolding, harnesses, or fall protection systems, can lead to accidents. This includes using the wrong type of equipment for the job.
  • Poorly Maintained Equipment: All equipment such as ladders, scaffolding, harnesses, PPE must be maintained properly and regularly inspected to ensure they are not damaged or compromised through wear and tear. The equipment must be stored properly to ensure it can be used safely when necessary.
  • Lack of Fall Protection: Failure to use appropriate fall protection measures, such as guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems such as harnesses, increases the risk of falling from heights. Equipment must be kept up to date and properly maintained. Guardrails must be used and fastened properly. Workers must be taught how to use the equipment properly. Workers safety is more important than cost.
  • Unstable Work Surfaces: Working on unstable or uneven surfaces, such as shaky scaffolding or slippery platforms, can result in slips, trips, and falls. Adverse weather conditions such as rain, ice or snow can affect surfaces and their safety. Stability is essential and all sites must be assessed regularly to ensure they are sufficiently stable for work.
  • Overloading Platforms: Exceeding the weight capacity of a work platform, such as scaffolding or elevated platforms, can cause structural failures and collapses.
  • Overreaching: Workers who reach too far may lose their balance and fall. Equipment must not be too short. Workers must not stand on the top rungs of ladders. Supervision and proper risk assessment and the importance of the right equipment cannot be overemphasised.
  • Lack of Supervision: Inadequate supervision can lead to unsafe work practices and failure to adhere to safety guidelines.
  • Adverse Weather Conditions: Working at height during adverse weather conditions, such as high winds, rain, or snow, can increase the risk of accidents.
  • Failure to Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Neglecting to wear appropriate PPE, such as helmets, gloves, or safety footwear, can result in injuries.
  • Unsafe Work Practices: Unsafe behaviours like leaning too far over guardrails, sitting on unprotected edges, or horseplay can lead to accidents.
  • Communication Failures: Inadequate communication among workers, including not warning others of potential hazards, can lead to accidents. Different languages and work cultures can contribute to the dangers. Employers must issue explicit instructions and ensure they are understood by everyone and all workers are properly supervised to ensure they understand what they are being told to do.
  • Fatigue and Stress: Working at height while fatigued or stressed can impair judgment and coordination, increasing the risk of accidents.
  • Inadequate Lighting: Poor lighting conditions can make it difficult to see hazards and navigate work areas safely, especially in dimly lit or outdoor environments.
  • Failure to Secure Tools and Materials: Tools and materials left unsecured on elevated work platforms can fall and pose a danger to workers below.

To prevent accidents when working at height, it is crucial to prioritize safety, provide proper training, conduct risk assessments, use appropriate equipment, and enforce strict safety protocols. Additionally, regular safety inspections and audits should be carried out to identify and address potential hazards.

What are my employer’s legal responsibilities?

All employers have a duty of care to their employees to ensure that that they have a safe working environment. If employees are exposed to potential risks to their safety at work, then the employer must ensure that they take whatever steps are necessary to remove them from such dangers (for example by supplying personal protective equipment or providing harnesses). Employers are expected to carry out risk assessments to determine how great the dangers are and what steps can be taken to lessen or prevent same.

If employers fail to recognise the risks employees face or fail to take steps to prevent employees being harmed, then employees will have a claim for compensation against such employers.

If an employee commits a wrongful act or causes harm to another person while carrying out their job duties or acting on behalf of their employer, the employer may be held legally liable for the employee's actions, even if the employer did not directly participate in or endorse the wrongful conduct. For instance if an employee negligently did not foot a ladder properly and the employee on the ladder fell from it, then the employer will be held liable to compensate the injured employee. This is called vicarious liability.

The primary legal framework for employer obligations in Northern Ireland is the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, which has been amended and updated over the years.

Key aspects of the duty of care that employers owe to employees in Northern Ireland include:

Providing a Safe Workplace:

Employers must provide a safe and healthy working environment, including safe premises, equipment, and materials. This includes taking steps to prevent accidents and hazards.

Risk Assessment:

Employers are required to conduct risk assessments to identify and assess potential workplace hazards. They must then take reasonable steps to control and mitigate these risks.

Health and Safety Policies and Procedures:

Employers must establish and communicate health and safety policies and procedures to employees. These policies should outline safe work practices, emergency procedures, and responsibilities.

Training and Information:

Employers must provide employees with necessary training and information to perform their jobs safely. This includes training on how to use equipment, handle hazardous substances, and respond to emergencies.

Supervision and Monitoring:

Employers are responsible for supervising employees and monitoring their work to ensure that safety procedures are followed and that any issues are promptly addressed.

Providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):

When required, employers must supply appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees and ensure its proper use.

Consultation and Involvement:

Employers are encouraged to consult with employees and involve them in health and safety matters. This may include appointing safety representatives or establishing safety committees.

Reporting and Investigating Accidents:

Employers are required to report certain workplace accidents, injuries, and incidents to the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI). They must also conduct investigations to identify the causes and implement corrective measures.

Legal Compliance:

Employers must comply with all relevant health and safety laws and regulations, including those specific to Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland must employers insure their employees against personal injury?

In Northern Ireland, employers are legally required to have employers' liability insurance to cover potential personal injury claims by their employees. This requirement is established under the Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969. Employers' liability insurance is designed to provide financial protection to employers in case an employee is injured or becomes ill as a result of their work and files a compensation claim.

How long do I have to take a claim for personal injury in Northern Ireland?

In Northern Ireland, the limitation period for personal injury claims is typically three years from the date of the accident or the date when the injury occurred. This means that you generally have three years from the incident's date to issue proceedings a personal injury claim.

However, there are some exceptions and nuances to consider:

Date of Knowledge: In cases where the injury or its cause was not immediately apparent at the time of the accident, the limitation period may start from the date when you first became aware of your injury and its connection to the accident. This is known as the "date of knowledge."

Under age of 18: if an injured party is a minor (under 18 years old) at the time of the accident, the three-year limitation period typically begins on their 18th birthday. So, they have until their 21st birthday to file a claim.

Mental Capacity: If the injured party lacked the mental capacity to make legal decisions at the time of the accident, the limitation period may not start until they regain capacity.

Death Claims: In cases where a personal injury results in death, the limitation period for the deceased's estate to make a claim is typically three years from the date of death.

Extension of Time: In exceptional circumstances, the court may have the discretion to extend the limitation period, but such extensions are not common and are granted sparingly.

It's crucial to consult with a solicitor as soon as possible after an accident. They can provide you with accurate advice on the limitation period that applies to your specific case and help you take the necessary steps to pursue a claim if it is within the statutory time frame. Waiting too long to file a claim can result in the loss of your right to seek compensation for your injuries and losses.

What steps should I take if I have an accident at work?

If you have an accident at work, it's important to take the following steps to ensure your well-being, report the incident, and protect your rights:

Seek Immediate Medical Attention (if necessary):

If you are injured and require medical attention, prioritize your health and safety. Get medical assistance as soon as possible, either by calling 999 (or 111) for emergencies or by seeking treatment from a designated first-aid provider or medical professional on the worksite.

Report the Accident to Your Supervisor/Employer:

Notify your immediate supervisor, manager, or employer about the accident as soon as possible, even if your injuries seem minor. Provide details of the accident, where it occurred, and any witnesses. Ensure that the incident is documented.

Document the Incident:

Write down your account of the accident, including the date, time, location, circumstances, and any contributing factors. Include descriptions of injuries sustained and any safety hazards that may have played a role.

Gather Witness Statements:

If there were any witnesses to the accident, ask them to provide statements about what they saw. Witness statements can be valuable in determining liability and supporting your claim.

Take Photographs:

If it's safe to do so and if you have access to a camera or smartphone, take photographs of the accident scene, any hazards, and your injuries. Visual evidence can be important if you need to prove the conditions at the time of the incident.

Request an Accident Report:

Your employer may have a standard accident report form that you should complete. Ensure that this report is filled out accurately and thoroughly. Keep a copy for your records.

Consult with a solicitor:

If you have been injured, consult with a solicitor to understand your legal rights and any potential claim.

How is my compensation assessed?

We divide compensation into a number of headings:

  • Compensation for pain, suffering and the effect the injury has had on a client’s life (what lawyers call “general damages”). The exact amount depends on the severity and extent of the injury and its impact. This will include physical and emotional loss, suffering and pain and compensation for loss of enjoyment of life.
  • Any loss of earnings, past and into the future, including all job related benefits and pension loss (what lawyers call “special damages”). If your injuries have reduced your ability to work you will be entitled to the difference between what you would have earned but for the accident and what you can now earn.
  • If someone has had to stop or reduce their work because it was necessary to look after you then the claim will include their loss of earnings, past and into the future, including all job related benefits and pension loss.
  • Cost of all medical expenses, past and future. This will include hospital bills and medication costs.
  • Cost of all therapy and rehabilitative treatment (including occupational therapy), past and future.
  • Cost of any nursing and domestic assistance, past and future.
  • Cost of any adaptions to property or the cost of new housing.
  • Cost of any adaptions to a vehicle or the cost of a vehicle or travel or other costs.
  • Any other expenses.

Will my case go to Court?

Few cases go to a full court hearing. Most cases are dealt with or settled by us without the necessity of a full hearing.

Why should you instruct the Kearney Law Group?

We, at the Kearney Law Group, are ready to assist you and have the knowledge and expertise you need to make a successful claim for compensation. We have an expert team ready to deal with your claim for personal injury arising from your workplace accident. We will ensure you recover compensation for your injuries and loss, swiftly and professionally.

We only do personal injury law and are experts at it.

For further assistance please ring us on (028) 90 912938 or fill in our contact form

The content of this blog is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice. No solicitor/client relationship or duty of care or liability of any nature shall exist or arise between the Kearney Law Group and you and we refer you to our disclaimer on our website.

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