In comparison with other industries, the construction industry is certainly one of the most dangerous. The Health and Safety Executive says that in the last 25 years over 2,800 people have died in construction accidents. Many more have been injured or made ill.
When a person is injured on a construction site and brings a claim, some of the issues that tend to arise involve: (1) employer’s liability and insurance; (2) health and safety regulation; and (3) questions of proof and evidence. This article analyses each in turn.
(1) Employer’s Liability
On a large construction site, one typically finds that the “employment” status of different workers varies widely. Generally, there will be a mixture of contractors, sub-contractors, self-employed workers, independent contractors, agency workers and casual labourers.
So when someone gets injured, an initial question will be “who is the employer?”
Generally, employer’s liability insurance policies have a broad sweep, and cover all of an employer’s workers even if they are not ordinary salaried or waged employees. Sometimes, however, an employer will engage an independent contractor who will agree to provide his own insurance. The same may be true of sub-contractors or agencies that are providing workers; they will likely be doing so under an arrangement whereby the sub-contractor or agency maintains employer’s liability insurance for the workers it supplies.
By law, however, all employers are required to maintain employer’s liability insurance. So anyone who is working on a construction site should be covered by their employer’s liability policy.
Employer’s liability insurance issues can be complicated in the case of a construction accident, and frequently a solicitor who is instructed by an injured client will need to do some investigation work to determine which employer and insurer will be liable.
(2) Health and Safety Regulation
Since construction sites are inherently dangerous places, the Health and Safety Executive subjects them to particular scrutiny. As a result, most construction site injuries will be attributable to one or more breaches of the relevant health and safety regulations.
In legal terms, this means that construction injury claims will usually be based on the employer’s breach of some express statutory duty as well as, in some cases, the employer’s negligence.
Let’s take a look at the Work at Height Regulations 2005, as an example of health and safety legislation applicable to building sites. These regulations impose a duty on any person who controls the work of others at height where there is a risk of a fall to ensure:
- all work at height is properly planned;
- those involved in the work are competent;
- the risks are assessed and appropriate equipment is used;
- fragile surface risks are controlled; and
- the equipment used is properly maintained and inspected.
The regulations go into some detail about how to meet each requirement. To give an example, in the case of work near fragile surfaces, the person responsible must ensure that there are, so far as reasonably practicable, prominent warning notices affixed to the approach to the fragile surface.
In evaluating and preparing a construction site injury claim then, an experienced construction injury solicitor will carefully parse through the relevant health and safety regulations to identify instances where the employer’s breach caused or contributed to the injury.
(3) Proof and Evidence
There are some initial, practical steps that a person injured in a construction accident should take in order to gather and preserve evidence that may be relevant to a claim.
For starters, the injured person should report the injury to the employer, and ensure that the employer records it in their accident book (which every employer is legally obliged to maintain).
If there were witnesses, it is a good idea to make a list of their names and contact details.
If possible, the injured person should get photographs of the scene of the accident as it was at the time of the accident. In addition, if the injury is visible, it may be useful to have someone take photographs of the injury.
The injured person should prepare a written account of the accident, giving details about the scene and any equipment that the injured person was using or that was involved in the accident. If, for example, the injured person was on a ladder when the accident happened, it would be useful to identify the particular ladder if at all possible. It could turn out to be the crucial item of evidence.
The injured person should also see a doctor as soon as possible after the accident occurs, whether in a casualty unit, GPs office or otherwise, depending on the nature and seriousness of the injury.
A person who has been injured in a construction accident and who is looking for legal advice should consider carefully whether their advisor has the requisite industry knowledge and expertise. A serious construction injury can lead to significant loss of earnings, medical bills and other losses and costs.