How much compensation can you claim for a health and safety breach?

Over one million people sustain a work-related illness or injury each year, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). In a majority of cases, the accident is caused by the employer's failure to follow a specific health and safety rule or procedure.

If you have been injured or fallen ill at work, it is possible to claim compensation for your injuries. To make a successful claim, you must demonstrate that you have suffered actual harm as a result of health and safety violations.

You cannot make an injury claim solely because a breach has the potential to cause harm, but no injury has actually been sustained. Nevertheless, such breaches should still be reported to the appropriate authority once identified.

Compensation depends on the type and seriousness of the harm you have suffered and not on the employer's behaviour.

The court may consider an employer's ongoing failure to deal with a known issue as evidence of the employer's negligence, but a "bigger" breach will not result in more damages unless the scale of the breach caused more serious injury.

What are the employer's duties?

The primary piece of legislation is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Under this Act, employers have a general duty to assess all work tasks and take adequate steps to minimise the risk of harm. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 gives specific instructions to help employers fulfil this overriding duty of care.

Other health and safety legislation covers specific risks in the workplace. Depending on the type of work you do, your employer may have to comply with: 

  • The Noise at Work Regulations 1989 which seek to regulate harmful noise levels in the workplace and reduce the risk of industrial deafness
  • The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1999 which requires employers to control exposure to toxic substances in the workplace 
  • The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulations 1992 which guides employers in selecting, using and maintaining appropriate safety equipment such as hard hats, goggles and gloves
  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998 which ensures that workplace equipment is used correctly and is suitable for purpose
  • The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 which regulates the lifting, carrying and transporting of loads
  • The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 1994 which sets out what people in the construction industry need to do to manage the safety risks of a building site.

Safety breaches could be relatively minor, such as leaving a box or other trip hazard on the floor. Or they could be potentially very serious, such as not erecting scaffolding properly causing workers to fall from height. 

The size of the safety breach is not important. Employers are expected to comply with the legislation in full and may be found to be negligent if any breach, even a minor breach, causes someone to suffer harm.

How much compensation will I receive?

Health and safety breach claims cover just about any injury or illness in the workplace. According to the HSE, the most common types of workplace injury include:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders (fractures, strains, sprains and other conditions affecting the bones, muscles and tendons)
  • Skin diseases for example, allergic reaction to chemicals and industrial dermatitis
  • Asthma
  • Asbestos-related disease
  • Work-related hearing loss
  • Industrial cancers
  • Respiratory disease

Injuries can vary in severity, ranging from mild cuts and bruises that heal in a few weeks to permanent, life-changing injuries. Due to the wide variety of injuries that can be sustained in a health and safety breach claim, your compensation will depend on the type of injury and the symptoms that you present. The more serious and long-lasting the injury, the greater the amount of compensation you can expect to receive.

For example, a simple arm fracture that heals within a year without surgery could be assessed at around £5,000 whereas the loss of a thumb could be assessed at up to £41,675.

When assessing the value of your claim, your solicitor will refer to the Judicial College Guidelines. The Guidelines attempt to put a common value on various types of personal injury according to the type of injury, degree of pain experienced, the impact on your ability to work, your prognosis for recovery and other factors.

While not legally binding, most solicitors and insurance companies use the Guidelines as a starting point in compensation negotiations.

You can also claim for expenses such as lost wages, medical treatment and buying specialist equipment. These expenses are specific to your case. They can usually be proven with some degree of specificity by referring to receipts, invoices, wage slips and other evidence.