The recent report in The Portsmouth News of a young man from Chichester who was tragically paralysed following an accident at work is stark reminder of the hazards faced in the workplace. In this particular case, a self-employed tree surgeon who was working for an independent contractor at the time on property owned by the National Trust had been tasked with dismantling a decaying horse chestnut tree. It is understood that the branch he was using as the anchor point for his safety rope snapped sending him 50ft to the ground.
A claim was brought against the National Trust for breach of duty of care but failed on the grounds that the Defendant was entitled to regard the contractor as being “reasonably safe and competent”.
It is fair to say that even where there is a clear employee/employer relationship, complex issues with regard to proving liability arise and establishing that the employer is in breach of their duty of care can involve detailed and complicated legal argument. That said, there is a heavy burden on the employer to train, supervise and protect their workers and from a legal point of view, the employer is largely liable for injuries caused by employees.
The situation is very different, however, when a person who is not an employee of that company and is injured in an accident on the company’s land or premises. In many cases, the difference beween workers who are employed by the company and those who are independent contractors working for themselves or another company, may be clear
Other instances, however, are not so clear. Employees and self-employed workers, for commercial reasons, regularly work alongside each other and may even be doing the same work. In these cases, the court will look very carefully at the relationship between the self-employed worker who has had an accident and the company as there is no certainty that they have the same protection as the employee.
If an independent contractor is brought in to carry out work on the premises or land that requires specific expertise, the courts have held that the company is entitled to consider that the contractor has the appropriate expertise and competence to carry out that job safely.
Vicki Wright, Personal Injury Solicitor at Swain & Co, comments, “ The case reported in The News is perhaps a little more complicated in that the victim was self-employed and working for the contractor who, in turn, had presumably been contracted by the National Trust. This is a very sad story which highlights the dangers in the workplace and the difficulties faced by the claimant in securing compensation for such terrible injuries”.