Does the UK have a work injuries compensation culture?

Various sources have expressed growing concerns that the UK is developing a ‘compensation culture.’ Tabloid newspapers decry health and safety as the enemy of common sense and quote cases that resulted in large compensation payments where the claimant themselves seems negligent. Reports such as these spread the fear that anyone can claim compensation for any kind of injury.

This simply isn’t true. In 2004, the Better Regulation Task Force published a report entitled ‘Better Routes to Redress’ which found that the total cost of compensation cases in Britain has remained static (in real terms) since 1989. This is despite the perception that the growing presence of ‘no win, no fee’ claims management companies makes it easier to claim compensation. This means that it is not becoming easier to claim compensation. Any claim will need clear evidence and expert legal assistance in order to succeed.

The myth of a ‘compensation culture’ also masks the high number of serious work injuries that occur every year, where the victims may need compensation to carry on with their lives.

HSE statistics indicate that in 2009/10, 1.3 million people who had worked in the last year were suffering from a work-related illness. Of these, 555,000 were new conditions. A further 0.8 million were also suffering from work-related illness but had not worked in the past year.

In the same year, 152 workers suffered fatal work injuries and 233,000 reportable work injuries occurred. Certain types of injury or illness are ‘reportable’ which means they must be reported. This includes any injury which results in the worker being unable to work for more than three days, major injuries such as fractures or loss of sight and fatalities, as well as ‘dangerous occurrences’ such as a fire which suspends normal operations for more than 24 hours.

These statistics indicate that there are thousands of people affected by work injuries or illness. The most common cause of fatal injuries is falls from a height, whilst the most common cause of major and over-three-day injuries is from slips or trips.

According to the Association of British Insurers, around 60,000 people receive compensation from their employers (figures from 2005). A further 20,000 people a year receive Industrial Injuries benefit, which is a ‘no fault’ compensation scheme provided by the government (DWP statistics).

These figures indicate that around 9 out of every 10 workers who suffer from a work injury or illness do not receive compensation. This is a far cry from the stories of a growing ‘compensation culture.’ In fact, many people who have suffered from a work-related injury or illness do not receive the compensation they deserve.

The increasing presence of claims management companies may also hinder the claims process as these companies may push for an early settlement when a higher payment could be received in court with the aid of an experienced solicitor and detailed evidence.

Rather than focusing on the dangers of a ‘compensation culture,’ care should be taken that those who suffer injuries and illness and work which genuinely weren’t their fault receive the care and compensation that they deserve.

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