The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has launched new farm safety guidelines with the support of farming organisations. Farms are the most dangerous workplaces in Ireland in terms of fatal accidents. The focus of the HSA’s efforts are to help farmers identify and negate the key risks and hazards in farms. For example, it is not generally known that farm animals are one of the main causes of farm deaths. The new farm safety initiative includes an improved code of practice for child safety on farms, guidelines on the safe use of tractors, guidance on safety around overhead power lines, and guidance on livestock safety at marts and lairages. The objective is to reduce the number of farm accidents.
Prison Officers were awarded over €2.5m in 2009 for injuries sustained in the line of duty.
The awards were made to 112 prison officers, whose injuries at work included stabbings, broken jaws, and needle attacks.
The highest award was over €500,000 and €329,473, while there were multiple awards of over €50,000.
Prison Officers’ Association (POA) has highlighted that the profile of prisoners has changed in recent years to include more gang members and a new generation of more violent inmates. There were over 150 assaults on prison offers in 2009.
Prison officers get a lot of negative press for their relatively high earnings and a massive overtime bill. The injuries sustained by so many prison offers put their salaries into perspective.
The President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, has approved one of Ireland’s first ever structured personal injury compensation payment Iarnród Éireann for a security guard severely injured by collapsing steel gate. The victim suffered frontal lobe damage that changed his personality, reduced his mental capacity, and made him less aware of his surroundings.
As well as €250,000 in general damages and special damages, Iarnród Éireann has agreed to make regular index-linked payments to the injured man, including €160,000 in annual care costs in a unit operated by Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, and €1,200 montly until retirement age for loss of earnings.
The settlement agreement is an interim agreement pending expected legislation on structured compensation payments, with the case adjourned until October 2011. This new type of settlement is aimed at solving the problems associated with serious injury victims where life-expectancy and future care costs were unclear.
Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns described the settlement as “imaginative, forward-looking and eminently sensible”.
It should be noted that this type of structured personal injury compensation payment will be relatively rare – only applying in cases where future long term care costs for serious injuries are unknown. The vast majority of personal injury claims will continued to be settled in the conventional manner involving negotiations between a solicitor and an insurance company.
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has launched Construction Safety Week to reduce the number of construction accidents and construction accident claims. The focus of the safety week will be construction vehicles, presumably because the HSA as identified this aspect of construction sites as needing improvement. HSA staff will conduct construction site inspections this week. As well as inspecting construction sites, HSA staff will also try to educate construction firms on the hazards posed by construction vehicles in an effort to prevent future accidents.
The HSA points out that accidents involving construction machinery and vehicles are responsible for very serious accidents and construction worker deaths.
Two construction workers have lost their lives so far this year, a much improved safety record compared with 2009.
The InjuriesBoard.ie is one of multiple Web sites developed by Injuries Board Ireland to deal with some of the most common types of personal injuries claims.
The InjuriesBoard.ie home page design is well designed and clear for first time visitors. The InjuriesBoard.ie resisted the temptation to fill it with too much information. The focus of the home page InjuriesBoards.ie is clearly to direct first time visitors to relevant information for claimants and respondents.
The InjuriesBoard.ie Web site has a very interesting feature called The Estimator that allows site visitors see the Book of Quantum estimates for different type of injuries. However, it looks like the award amounts have not been updated in some time because they appear low compared with awards currently reported by solicitors. The Estimator does not clearly explain the factors that impact the size of injury compensation awards, such as ongoing medical expenses or loss of earnings.
The InjuriesBoard.ie Web site does not explain in any way the rights in relation to getting help from a solicitor in making a claim. In fact, the entire topic of legal representation seems to be avoided as much as possible. The difficult issue of O’Byrne letters is also not covered in a way that you might expect. Given the complexity and potential pitfalls of such letters, the advice on InjuriesBoard.ie in relation to these difficult litigation letters is completely inadequate. It could be considered negligent that there is no warning to seek legal advice before attempting to write such an important legal letter.
There is no clear information about the types of personal injury claims where a solicitor is always required. For example, it is not clearly explained that a solicitor is required for children’s injury claims, such as playground accident claims or school accident claims because such settlements must be approved in court.
The InjuriesBoard.ie Web site does not clearly explain when it is not possible to use the services of InjuriesBoard.ie, such as medical negligence claims.
The clear focus of the InjuriesBoard.ie Web site is information and not advice, with no warnings about potential difficulties with making a claim without the help of a solicitor. For example, the entire issue of contributory negligence is completely ignored, probably because InjuriesBoard.ie cannot deal with such cases.
The focus of InjuriesBoard.ie is clearly personal injury claims, road traffic accident claims, and injuries at work. However, there is very little information about specific types of injury claims in the areas it does cover. So, for example, while injuries at work is mentioned, there is no information about construction accident claims or farm accident claims.
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) of Ireland has published a new guide, Stop Slips and Trips – Get a Grip, for employers and employees to help reduce workplace injuries caused by simple slips, trips, and falls. Although this type of injury might initially seem very minor compared with industrial accidents involving heavy machinery, about one fifth of the workers injured from falls stay absent from work for over one month. Injuries at work due to falls account for about half of all claims for injuries at work that are made by the Injuries Board Ireland.
As with all types of workplace injury prevention programs, the HSA recommends that employers should track all incidents, assess the risks, and concentrate on prevention. The preventative measure for slips or trips are fairly obvious: placing safety signs in places where trips might occur like unexpected steps, providing protective equipment and appropriate shoes to staff that might regularly be exposed to the risky areas like loading bays, ensuring that there is sufficient lighting so hazards are visible, ensure workers can dry any wet shoes, deal with liquid spills immediately, and most obviously, ensuring there are no bumps and holes on the floor.
The HSA always highlights that workplace safety is a joint responsibility between workers and employers, with both groups responsible for ensuring that there are as few accidents as possible. However, employers have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their workers. Not just to prevent injury claims and because it’s a legal requirement, but because employers have a duty of care for their employees.
Vincent McGuinness, a fireman from Dundalk, County Louth, has settled a High Court compensation claim for a five-meter fall from a ladder while fighting a fire at a derelict house at Culhane Street, Dundalk, in February 2004. Mr McGuinness took the action against his employer Dundalk Town Council and the owner of the building that caught fire.
The case against the building owner was on the basis that he failed to secure the premises adequately and failed to ensure that a fire would not occur there. Mr McGuinness was injured while following a direct orders to climb a ladder that was placed by a superior officer against iron guttering, which later collapsed and moved the ladder. Mr McGuinness landed on his back while his breathing apparatus canister was still attached to his back, causing a vertebra injury. Mr McGuinness spent spent three days in hospital and wore a neck brace for three months. Mr McGuinness was unable to work for five months.
It was claimed that a hydraulic ladder that was available on the fire truck at the incident should have been used. The council argued that it had taken all appropriate measures, there was contributory negligence, and that the fire was started by a third party and therefore the council had no liability in law.
The case was settled before the jury made an award, presumably because the defendants were afraid of what a jury would award to a fireman injured while bravely fighting a fire.
Mr Justice John Quirke of the High Court in Dublin has approved a settlement award of €1.28m to a County Waterford teenager TJ Kearns, who lost a leg in a farming accident. The farm accident occurred on April 20, 2001, when TJ Kearns’ leg got entangled in a power seed sowing machine while working on a farm when he was nine years of age. TJ Kearns was in a tractor with a power harrow attached that was driven by an adult.
The defendants in the case were John Joe Flynn, Eugene Flynn and Gerard Flynn of Dunmore East, County Waterford. As is common in most workplace injury claims, liability in the action had been admitted. As a minor, TJ Kearns of Viewmount, Waterford sued through his father Tom Kearns. The settlement offer had to be approved in the High Court because TJ Kearns is a minor.
While approving the settlement, Mr Justice Quirke stated that “no money could compensate TJ fully for what he had suffered” . TJ Kearns received treatment National Rehabilitation Centre in Dun Laoghire and now uses an artificial leg.
The Health and Safety Authority has launched a three year plan to improve workplace safety and reduce injuries at work. The HSA estimates that about 150 Irish workers suffer an injury at work every day. The HSA also estimates that workplace accidents cost the Irish economy over three billion euros annually, not including the cost of injury claims.
The Health and Safety Authority and Road Safety Authority have issued new guidelines “Driving for Work Guidelines” that provide “an overview of legislation, how to carry out risk assessments and highlights the significant benefits for businesses and the wider community when work related road safety is managed effectively”.
The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act of 2005 means that employers have a legal duty to protect the health and safety of workers who drive for work.
About one third of all road traffic accidents involve a work vehicle and about 76 people die in work-related crashes annually.
The HSA reports that 42% of Irish businesses have no driving for work policy as part of their health and safety management system. This raises questions about the liability of employers when employees are involved road traffic accidents.
The Injuries Board Ireland figures for 2009 reveal that 25,919 new injury claims were made, an increase of 5% on 2008. There were 8,645 claims settled in 2009 for the amount offered by Injuries Board Ireland. The difference between the high volume of applications and and the comparatively small number of settlements is normal because only about 20% of claims are settled for the amount offered by the Injuries Board (the rest are settled before an offer is made, go directly to Court, or are rejected as too low).
The total value of the award offers that were accepted was over €200 million, averaging €23,163 per award.
In a rare example of a workplace injury claim not involving an actual physical injuries, a Securicor driver has been awarded €25,000 in damages for robbery of his van that included the “Tiger” kidnapping of a colleague’s wife. The security van driver, James Eakins, had sued Securicor Security Services Limited, his former employer, for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. While not personally threatened, Eakins claimed that he was stressed by an incident when he handed over over €1 million to a work colleague whose wife had been taken hostage. The 2007 incident happened while delivering cash to an ATM at a service station in County Carlow. The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, ruled James Eakins was entitled to compensation.
Gardaí have a particularly dangerous job, and injuries at work are always going to occur. There has been a significant increase in claims over the last 5 years. Some 430 claims have been settled in the past two years and more than 800 claims are outstanding. The total cost of the awards and legal costs was almost €30 million over the past two years. The numbers appear to indicate that about 5% of the members of the Garda Síochána are claiming compensation for work-related injuries every year.
Garda injury compensation claims are not handled by Injuries Board Ireland. The Garda Compensation Act specifies that all Garda injury claims must be handled by the High Court. There has been a significant increase in compensation for the stress caused by exposure to people that are possibly infected with diseases like hepatitis or HIV. Some examples include:
A garda was awarded €25,000 in compensation for stress after an encounter with a HIV-positive drug addict.
A garda was awarded €30,000 after an injury became infected and he was afraid he might contract a disease.
A garda was awarded €8,000 for physical and psychological suffering after being bitten during the arrest of a drug user.
Gardaí are exposed to other forms of workplace stress that other workers rarely experience. For example, a garda who had a gun pointed at her and hid under a dashboard was awarded €30,000. The gun was an imitation firearm, although there was no way for the garda to know that at the time.
He says the injury to his hand occurred while he was working but at the time he did not disclose it for fear he would be sacked.
This failure to disclose a workplace injury created major problems for him when he later went to claim social welfare.
So when Conrad eventually lost his job, he did had no documentation available to support his claim that he was injured at work, and therefore did not qualify for disability benefit or disability allowance.
The lesson is to report all workplace injuries and have them recorded in an Accident Report Boook, even when you have no intention of making a personal injury claim.
A civil servant called Orla Fitzpatrick was injured while working in Leinster House. The case was taken against the leas-cheann comhairle, the finance minister and the attorney general. As with so many personal injury cases, the matter was settled before it went to court, for 150,000 euro. As is the normal practice, the legal costs of the victim were paid. The information was released under the Freedom of Information Act, although the exact details of the injuries were not released.
Another recent personal injury case at Leinster House involved Mona Hanafin, the mother of the social welfare minister Mary Hanafin. Mona Hanafin had the bad luck of breaking a bone in her arm in a fall at Leinster House and received €33,280 in a damages.
The construction industry is by its very nature one of the most dangerous work environments. Directors and managers of construction companies have a particularly difficult task compared with other industries that only involve, for example, office workers. The court case this week related to the death Polish construction worker Czeslav Malinowski illustrates the challenges. Malinowski died following a fall on Roscommon town’s main street in April 2006.
Malinowski was employed by Owencrest Properties Ltd, directed by John Doyle, and working on a project by Roscommon Building Company Ltd, directed by Noel Doyle. The directors and companies pleaded guilty to various offenses under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 and were find 350,000 euro.
In a lesson to all employers, it was noted in court that the companies involved had good health and safety records and the directors were clearly distressed by the accident that resulted in the death of an employee.
The latest statistics show that €31 million in compensation was awarded for workplace injuries in 2008.
Unlike personal injuries in general where most awards are made to women, three quarters of workplace accident injuries are suffered by men. There were 972 claims in 2008 resulting in an average award of €32,266. One third of awards were for over €38,000 and the largest award was €582,000.
The construction industry suffers the most workplace injuries – 28% of the total. The statistics show that injuries due to workplace accidents are remarkably well spread around different sectors: manufacturing 20%, hotels and restaurants 13%, retail 12%, public bodies 9%, and transport/storage 5%.
Three quarters of workplace accidents were caused by slips, trips, and falls (44%), lifting or handling (18%), and machinery and defective equipment (16%).
Interestingly, many accident victims have multiple injuries. The most common injuries are sprains (42%), fractured bones (25%), cuts (24%), bruises (19%), and crushing (12%).
Austin Dowling, aged 59 of Tallaght, County Dublin, has settled a claim for damages with the Adelaide and Meath Hospital, Tallaght. Like the vast majory of workplace injury claims, the claim was settled before it went to court. The amount of the settlement was not revealed and there was no admission of liability from the hospital.
Austin Dowling is a mortuary porter at the hospital and claimed he hurt his should after lifting a dead man from a hospital bed into a concealment trolley in January 2005. Dowling claimed he suffered loss of movement and pain in his right shoulder that required surgery.
The claimant alleged negligence and breach of duty by the hospital. His claims included lack of a safe system of work, failing to provide proper equipment/machinery to lift a body by failing to provide a roller board to slide a body onto a trolley. He also claimed the trolley was unsafe and he had not received specific training for the type of concealment trolley involved.
Lifting injuries are one of the most common workplace injury claims.