There’s a lot of debate at present around the requirements to wear PPE at work. It’s a complex debate in the landscape of covid-19 and one that I’m not perhaps best placed to comment on, but I do recognise that a lot of the work that personal injury lawyers do forces change and often that change is for the better – this includes health and safety requirements at work. Had it not been for these advances and helping people to enforce their rights then I am confident that the landscape around PPE requirements would be very different in the current era.
In 17 years as a practising personal injury lawyer I have faced a lot of criticism and prejudice about my chosen area of law. To coin a phrase “ambulance chaser” is the negative connotation that most often springs to mind perpetuating the belief amongst members of the public (and quite often the profession) that personal injury lawyers are somewhat second class when compared to those practising in other areas of law. Obviously I disagree with this stance.
Think back to where health and safety law started. When cities became industrialised in the 1800’s, accidents in the workplace became more prevalent, with deaths and life changing injuries becoming commonplace. Action was needed to try and address this and the Factories Act began. This brought in the duty to inspect working conditions and prevent the exploitation of young children working in squalid conditions.
Roll forward nearly a hundred years and 1974 saw the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act. This set the scene for further advances to protect workers with the concept of wearing personal protective equipment being introduced in 1992 by way of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations. Hard to think that considering today’s discussions around the topic that this is not that long ago and surely testimony to us becoming a more rights aware population within a similar timescale. Enforcing those rights to protection encourages further developments.
When personal injuries lawyers force employers to consider claims that hinge around health and safety issues they bring to the fore the need to risk assess and to take steps to minimise those risks. If a claimant is successful in their pursuit of compensation then a defendant inevitably won’t want to stand in those shoes again and will make the necessary changes to prevent facing a similar claim. If they don’t take these steps in the knowledge that they have that power then in my view they should face the consequences of their failure to act until change is forced upon them. Pursuing compensation for a breach of health and safety isn’t based upon greed – it’s often about getting compensation for something that shouldn’t have happened and recognising failure to identify and prevent the risks to workers. This in turn forces change so as to protect others.
We will be learning lessons from today’s pandemic. Once people have had chance to take stock and assess how the failures to provide PPE has impacted upon them they will inevitably be seeking legal advice to consider these issues further. Personal injury lawyers will be helping these people enforce their rights, as death or injury is a natural consequence of what is unravelling. Those discussions and actions will force change for the future and whilst that might be too late for today’s generation we still have a responsibility to protect the next generations and secure further legal debate and changes. Our work as personal injury lawyers will once again be at the heart of this.
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