The law says that employers must be proactive and carry out risk assessments to identify any hazards that might exist in the workplace and evaluate the extent of the risks involved.
They should not, according to a recent Court of Appeal ruling, wait until the risk is brought to their attention before they do something about it.
This is welcome news for all workers and particularly for a London Underground train driver, Latona Allison, who developed tenosynovitis in her right wrist following the redesign of a safety brake. Ms Allison said that she was not given adequate training in the use of the brake, known as the dead man’s handle, and can no longer work as a train driver as a result of her condition.
Thompsons Solicitors, who acted on behalf of the RMT union for Ms Allison, says the decision confirms that it is the duty of employers to carry out risk assessments and take appropriate action, and not to wait until a health and safety concern is brought to their attention.
Three Judges agreed that the training provided had been inadequate “in the light of what the employer ought to have known about the risks arising from the activities of the business”. It was not enough to provide the training after the risks were known.
The court said that Judges have been giving insufficient attention to risk assessments in the years since the duty was introduced.
It said: “Risk assessments are meant to be an exercise by which the employer examines and evaluates all the risks entailed in his operations and takes steps to remove or minimise those risks. They should be a blueprint for action.”
Henrietta Phillips, Ms Allison's solicitor at Thompsons said: “Risk assessments were intended to be a pro-active duty on employers when the requirement to carry them out became law in 1992.
Yet increasingly Judges, when asked to decide if an employer has been in breach of that duty, drift back to the common law where a risk had to be brought to an employers' attention before an assessment is carried out.
“Today's decision is extremely good news for workers and sends a clear message to employers about their duties to protect their employees’ health and safety.”
Ms Allison’s original claim for compensation was rejected by the County Court, but the Court of Appeal has now ordered that London Underground pays her damages.