Who is legally responsible for an accident at work?

Concerned woman reflecting after a work accident

If you were injured in an accident at work, it's not always be obvious who caused the accident. Even if you know who was to blame for your injuries, like a careless coworker, that does not mean they will be personally legally liable.

Under UK law, a company is usually liable for the negligence of its staff, and for accidents that injure workers during the course of their job.

If you are unsure about who caused your accident, and whether you can claim compensation for an accident at work, this article will give you some initial guidance.

Discovering who is to blame for a work accident

Who is legally responsible for an accident at work, and therefore who is responsible for paying compensation in the event of an injury claim, will depend on the circumstances of the accident.

I was injured by a manager or coworker

If you were hurt as a result of a colleague's actions or negligence, you will usually be able to make a work accident claim. The claim will be made against your employer, and it will be your employer’s insurance provider that will pay out compensation.

By law, UK companies must have Employers' Liability (EL) insurance in place to cover injury compensation. Neither the negligent colleague, nor the company itself, will have to pay compensation out of their own pockets. This ensures that even very seriously injured workers can recover the full compensation they are due.

Read more:
Can I make a claim against a work colleague?

I was injured by defective or dangerous equipment

If you were injured by defective equipment, who is responsible for your injury will depend on which party acted negligently:

  • Employer - If your employer knew (or should have known) that the equipment was defective, and they failed to make repairs or effectively warn potential users of the danger, they are likely to be responsible.
  • Manufacturer, retailer or importer - In the UK, if a product was defective when it left the factory, you may be able to claim compensation for the harm the product caused. The Consumer Protection Act 1987 enables a claim to be made against the manufacturer, retail or importer of the defective product, without having to prove negligence.
  • Maintenance provider - If your employer contracts an external company for maintenance and repairs, that service provider may be liable for harm caused by their negligence.

If you were injured by machinery that was working correctly, but is inherently dangerous, such as a power saw or forklift, you may still be able to claim compensation.

For example, you may be able to make a claim if your employer failed to provide suitable training and protective equipment to keep workers safe, or failed to act after similar incidents or near-misses had occurred in the past.

Read more:

Claim compensation for dangerous machinery

I was asked to do something without proper training or PPE

Companies owe their staff a duty of care to provide adequate training and equipment to perform their work safely.

If you were hurt because you were asked to complete a task without proper PPE or without proper training, your employer will likely have breached this duty of care.

Employers must ensure that new starters receive the training and protection they need, before the worker is exposed to any risks. An employee injured by their employer's negligence on their first day has the same right to claim compensation as any other worker. The same applies to a prospective worker or trainee, and during an interview or trial period.

An employer may also be liable if they have failed to provide ongoing training, or failed to monitor the correct use of PPE.

My injury was caused by a health and safety breach

UK businesses must adhere to numerous health and safety rules, and there are additional, detailed obligations that apply to specific industries:

  • Construction - An employer or site operator may breach rules set out in the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015.
  • Manufacturing - The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) and The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) guide safety practices for machinery and handling hazardous substances.
  • Healthcare - The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 requires medical staff to receive suitable training, PPE and to have effective infection control measures in place.

Many other laws and regulations also protect workers in a wide range of industries, from agriculture to office work.
Whatever the circumstances of your work accident, if you were injured because either a coworker or your employer breached specific health and safety obligations, you are likely to have a strong claim.

Read more:

Health and safety breach injury claims

I was injured by a member of the public

You may be able to make a work accident claim, even if you were hurt by the actions or negligence of a member of the public.
The key questions your solicitor will ask are "To what extent was the harm foreseeable?", and "What steps could your employer reasonably have taken to protect you?" Examples include:

  • If a worker needs to deal with aggressive or difficult members of the public, have they received suitable training to de-escalate and resolve these interactions?
  • If you are working on or near roads, are there sufficient safety measures in place to protect workers from other road users.
  • In higher-risk settings like healthcare and public service, are security measures sufficient?
  • Are site visitors suitably chaperoned?
  • Have health and safety procedures been updated in light of previous incidents or near-misses?

If your employer could reasonably have foreseen you could be injured by a member of the public, and failed to mitigate that risk, your employer is likely to be liable for your injuries.

I don't know who was responsible

Discovering who is liable to pay compensation for a work accident can sometimes be complex. However, you don’t need to have worked out who is responsible before starting a claim.

In the UK, the employer is ultimately responsible for many work accidents. Your solicitor will investigate the circumstances of your accident, gather evidence and determine who is legally responsible for the harm you have suffered.

Read more:

Can I Make an Injury Claim If I Don't Know Who's to Blame?

I was responsible (or partly responsible) for my work accident, can I still claim?

Depending on the circumstances of your accident, you may still be able to claim.

Even if you caused your own injuries, if the accident resulted from a lack or training or supervision, unsafe working conditions or other inadequate safety measures, you may still have a claim.

You may also be able to claim if your employer had breached the Working Time Regulations and you were fatigued and overworked at the time of the accident.

In some cases, you may still be partially liable for your injuries. For example, if you were injured by a falling object but weren't wearing the correct PPE at the time, you may still be able to claim some compensation, under the principle of 'contributory negligence'. Your claim may succeed, but your compensation sum could be reduced.

Read more:

The accident was partly my fault. Can I still claim injury compensation?

What are my employer's duties after an accident at work?

Once an employer is aware of a health and safety incident, they must take all reasonable steps to protect workers from further harm, and to prevent the incident from reoccuring. A company may need to improve health and safety procedures, carry out further training, and repair or replace hazardous machinery or PPE.

If the employer was aware of an outstanding issue and didn’t take suitable action, and an employer was later injured as a result of the fault, that is likely to be strong evidence of negligence.

Depending on the nature of the accident, the company might also have to report the accident to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), under a scheme like RIDDOR. Reportable incidents include:

  • Fractures, crush injuries and amputations
  • Serious burns
  • Hypothermia and heat-induced illness
  • Serious eye injuries

You can claim compensation even if your employer did not record your injury in the accident book, or formally report the accident (if they were required to do so).

What are my responsibilities after an accident at work?

You should report your accident to a manager or health and safety rep, to ensure the incident is recorded in the company’s accident book. You should also seek medical help from the nurse or first aider on duty, if you need to.

These steps will help to ensure the company can take action to prevent future harm, and will also make it easier to prove your claim for compensation.

You should consult with your manager, HR or health and safety representative to confirm what other specific actions you should take after an accident, according to company policy. Even if you haven't followed your company’s standard procedure, you will still usually be able to claim compensation for your injuries.

Failing to follow company accident reporting rules cannot strip you of your right to claim damages, but it may make it slightly harder to claim, if for example you didn't report an accident at the time.

Why are companies legally responsible for their employees’ actions?

In the UK, all employers are legally responsible for the actions of their employees’s actions during the course of their work. This principle is known as 'vicarious liability'.

The principle of vicarious liability exists to ensure that the victims of negligence and other wrongful acts would have a means of compensation when the direct wrongdoer was unable to pay.

If an employee's actions or negligence cause someone harm, and the injured person claims compensation, the compensation is paid by the company that employs the negligent worker. The negligent employee is not expected to pay the compensation themselves. In many cases, an employee would simply be unable to pay a large sum of compensation.

What legislation applies to vicarious liability?

Several areas of law and pieces of legislation define the principle of vicarious liability at work:

  • Common law - Vicarious liability has existed in English common law for centuries. The principle is grounded in the idea that for certain relationships, one party (e.g. the employer) should bear legal responsibility for another party's actions (e.g. the employee).
  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 - This is the primary legislation that sets out an employer's duty to protect the health and safety of their employees.
  • Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969 - This legislation requires employers to have employers' liability insurance. This insurance ensures that if someone is injured at work, the cost of their compensation can be paid.
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 - These regulations require employers to monitor and reduce workplace hazards, and helps to define when an injury claim is possible once these duties are breached.
  • Case law - Many court cases have further defined the limits of vicarious liability, settling questions like whether an employer should be responsible for a worker’s violent conduct, whether an unpaid volunteer can claim compensation, and what counts as being "at work".If you are unsure whether the circumstances of your accident qualify you to claim compensation, a solicitor will be able to confirm whether or not you can make a claim, and who your claim would be made against.

What should I do if my employer is liable for my work accident?

The first step is to contact a solicitor for a FREE initial claim assessment.

You can find out if you have a claim in minutes by speaking to a legally trained advisor on 0800 376 1001. Your solicitor will put no pressure on you to proceed with a claim.

If you have any questions, or would like to start a No Win No Fee work accident claim, we are open:

Mon-Fri 8am-9pm, Sat 9am-6pm, Sun 9:30am-5pm

Alternatively, you can arrange a call back from a friendly, legally-trained advisor:

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Chris Salmon, Director

Chris Salmon, Director