The health and safety implications of falls at work

What is termed a ‘same level’ fall (caused by a trip, slip or failure of balance) can be as catastrophic for the victim as a ‘fall from height’ and result in range of injuries that might incapacitate them for days, weeks or months, permanently disable or even kill them. The proportion of serious and fatal injuries caused by ‘falls from height’, are predictably, even higher than for same level falls but taken as a totality you are more likely to suffer a fall a work than almost any other mishap. Why is this?

The fact that the category of workplace accidents involving falls stubbornly retains its position near the top of the Health and Safety Executive’s list of most common workplace accidents is sad testimony to an on-going failing amongst some employers and businesses to consistently address the fundamentals of health and safety in an effective way. The blame for the continuing prevalence of workplace falls can usually be placed fair and squarely at the feet of employers who fail to grasp the importance of a health and safety aware workforce or embed a culture of employee safety at the heart of their businesses.

The steps it is necessary for a business to take in order to reduce the likelihood of falls occurring in the workplace are not onerous or extensive and spring naturally from underpinning health and safety processes such as risk assessment, the provision of appropriate equipment, the necessary maintenance of that equipment and an on-going commitment to staff training. A failure to undertake these steps on the part of the employer constitutes a major dereliction of their legal duty of care to their employees and places them in an acutely disadvantageous position when it comes to defending any personal injury claims from employees who have suffered a fall at work due to a health and safety failing.

Protecting employer and employees

Put simply, an effective health and safety regime protects both employer and employee; the potential fall hazards are identified and neutralised or minimised, employees are trained to identify and report those and other such hazards and to use their safety equipment and undertake safe working practices as a matter or course and their company sees a sharp reduction in claims for compensation for falls in the workplace made against them.

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Government Makes Life Difficult for Claims Managers

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is set to price a host of Claims Management Companies (CMCs) out of the regulation market through a 47% hike in application fees in 2013/2014 and the removal of the current cap on annual fees. Under the new proposals:

• CMCs will face a fee increase in the financial products and services sector

• The application fee will rise from £950 to £1,400

The MoJ which regulates CMCs is looking to replace the funding which will be lost through the ban on personal injury referral fees, due to come into effect in 2013. In a recently released consultation document, the MoJ stressed that the resources the changes are expected to generate will be vital for the protection of consumers and prosecution of “unauthorised traders”.

The document reveals a need to focus on malpractice within the financial products and services sector, to which 90% of all consumer complaints are now related.

The changes are also likely to see the Legal Ombudsman’s jurisdiction widen to incorporate complaints related to CMCs, at an estimated cost of £3m, explained by recruitment, training, IT and marketing expenses. The annual fees for complaint handling will be capped at £40,000 and calculated in relation to turnover.

The consultation period will continue until the 18th December and from the 1st April 2013, the new fees will come into force.

Let’s hope that the Minister of Justice show a bit more backbone in dealing with rogue CMC’s.

Plans to Ban Cosmetic Surgery Ads Met with Strong Support

Calls for the government to prohibit cosmetic surgery advertising, led by the reputable British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS),seems to have found favour with personal injury lawyers.

There has been mounting disapproval regarding the perceived recklessness of cosmetic surgery advertisements. Fazel Fatah, the BAAPS president, recently stated that the recent proposals are designed to prevent surgeons from “taking advantage” of “vulnerable” consumers who often seek surgery due to psychological problems. In modern society, there is thought to be greater pressure on people to look a certain way, perpetuated by the images seen in magazines and on TV programmes.

Having previously argued for a comprehensive ban on all cosmetic surgery advertising, the BAAPS has settled tempered its objectives but still hopes to outlaw any advertising aimed at non-adults. In addition, it hopes to ban promotional offers which are more suitable to buying tins of baked beans at the supermarket [such as loyalty cards and ‘buy one get one free’ offers] which encourage consumers to undergo multiple surgical procedures.

However, whilst personal injury solicitors have reacted positively to the plans, others have been less admiring. Some surgeons have argued that the real problem lies with the lack of regulation of cosmetic surgeries themselves, which the BAAPS proposals fail to address.

In light of the recent PIP implants scandal, two of the UK’s leading cosmetic surgery providers, the Harley Medical Group and Transform, claimed that tighter regulation of the profession was of paramount importance. In response, the government ordered a review of the entire cosmetic surgery industry and the EU has also suggested that it would tighten regulation.

There are far too many rogue cosmetic surgery firms with little regulation who are taking advantage of susceptible members of the public. Both advertising and the regulation of surgeries should, surely,  be addressed by the government in order to build upon the good work done by the BAAPS and prevent any further unwanted scandals.

The dangers of using your own faulty electrical appliance at work

A remarkable 43% of workers have, according to the insurer RSA [or the Royal and Sun Alliance as it used to be known], taken into the workplace their own personal actual appliances containing some form of heat source – such as heaters, fans, hair straighteners and even fairy lights. Of those who responded to the survey, an amazing 12% actually owned up to using such items with exposed wires. Furthermore, a full 9% said that either they, or a colleague, had suffered some form of personal injury from using such appliances – including electric shocks and burns. Perhaps the biggest health and safety threat from these items is that of fire risk – most remarkably of all, 8% of those responding to the survey actually experienced one such an actual item catching fire in the workplace.

So one way to avoid unnecessary work accidents is to avoid bringing your own dodgy kit into work. Some employers even go as far as completely banning, on health and safety grounds, the use at work of all personal electrical appliances which have a heat source.

And finally – do feel sorry for employers – if, for example, you suffer some sort of injury from your own faulty electrical appliance whilst at work, your employer could still be liable if  you bring a work accident claim against them for suffering your injury at work!

Membership of the Spinal Injuries Association Spinal Injuries Panel

When I first walked in to the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Injuries Treatment Centre in Salisbury I turned round and walked out. The centre is one of the 9 specialist spinal units in the country and provides surgery, medical treatment and rehabilitation to people who have had spinal cord damage.

Having a spinal cord injury is not “having a bad back”. It occurs when the spinal cord is damaged to the extent that the patient is paralysed from the point of injury downwards. Many spinal injury patients cannot walk, deal with their own toileting requirements or have sexual intercourse.

Many spinal injury patients are young, often rugby players, horse riders and motorcyclists. That’s why I walked out; before those who have had the worst of luck could see the tears in my eyes.

Ten years on from that first visit I am now a member of the Spinal Injuries Association Spinal Injuries Panel. I am one of the handful of solicitors in the country who has chosen to dedicate their career to speak on behalf of those with spinal cord injuries.

We are a rare breed of solicitor. We deal with clients with spinal injuries on a daily basis. We know the needs that they have on a daily basis. The fact that a spinal injured patient will need 2 or 3 carers, specialist accommodation, many aids and appliances to help them with their mobility and compensation for the fact that they will not work again. Spinal injury claims are often worth several millions of pounds and every pound is needed to ensure that the spinal cord injured person can lead a dignified and fulfilled life.

The Spinal Injuries Association is the national charity for spinal injured people. They help with funding and grants, give advice on welfare benefits and provide information and support for spinal cord injured people. They also assess the ability of solicitors to provide good quality professional representation for people with spinal injuries.

Instructing a non-specialist solicitor can result in your claim being settled for far less than it is worth. You may find yourself losing benefits that you need to help you pay for your care if you have not been advised to set up a personal injury trust. You may need a Lasting Power of Attorney so that your family can help you deal with your day to day finances and a non-specialist solicitor may not recognise this fact.

Specialist solicitors will visit you at home or in hospital rather than just sending you paperwork for a distance. We will meet your families and advise them on their concerns to. We provide an all round service.

Spinal injury specialists handle some of the largest claims that come before the English Courts. We are used to it and we do it well.

I have been into spinal injury units nationwide in the last 10 years and have never looked back. I have helped clients thought trauma and crises, laughter and tears, weddings and the birth of their children. I see clients wearing my black Court dress and in my jeans. It is one of the most diverse roles a solicitor can have and one of the most rewarding.

Claims through the RTA Portal – more controversy seems likely

Problem with yet another of the government’s many mooted changes to the legal landscape appears likely with the admission that there are “no guarantees” that the RTA Portal will in fact be ready for the expected significant increase in the number of RTA [i.e. Road traffic act] injury claims from next April.

The chairman of RTA Portal Co [the company which operates the online personal injury claim system], Tim Wallis, commented that there were “no guarantees that the new system would be properly implemented in time for next April’s changes. With effect from next April, the Ministry of justice is to up the current maximum limit on RTA injury claims from £10,000 up to £25,000 – in addition to extending the use of the portal to cover both public liability and employers liability claims as well as road traffic cases.

Mr Wallace went on to describe the circumstances surrounding upgrading and development of new software for the portal as ”challenging”.

Yet again, it looks like this government is, for entirely good reasons, simply trying to do too much too soon. In the meantime personal injury solicitors can do little but simply hope that the specialist software company can in fact develop the changes to the gateway required by next April – though don’t hold your breath.