Workplace negligence refers to an employer failing to provide and maintain a safe and healthy working environment. For employees, it refers to actions that disregard safety and training procedures. Workplace negligence can occur in a number of ways, from inadequate safety measures to a lack of training and supervision. Not addressing these issues can lead to serious workplace incidents that harm employees or others affected by negligence.
Employers have a legal obligation to provide a hazard-free work environment and take all necessary steps to reduce the risk of harm, whether that is physical or mental harm. These responsibilities vary depending on the industry, job role and location. Employers who neglect or violate these obligations put their employees and the public at risk while exposing themselves to significant legal and financial consequences.
Examples of workplace negligence
Workplace negligence can be harmful but some examples are more severe than others. Some of them include:
- Inadequate training: Employees who are not properly trained are at risk of various injuries. Negligent employers who do not provide adequate safety training are not prioritising the safety of their staff.
- No safety provisions: If the business fails to provide signage, warnings and visual aides it is being neglectful. Employers must provide their employees with the right personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to carry out their job safely. Not giving the employees the appropriate equipment can lead to injuries and is a threat to the employee’s well-being. Employers who refuse to educate themselves and know which safety precautions are right for the industry they operate in are not adequately following work health and safety laws.
- No maintenance: Employers should ensure that the workplace is in good condition and is safe for employees to work in. This includes maintaining equipment and machinery, which could include replacing them if necessary, keeping workspaces clear of hazards and addressing any issues related to building safety. Negligent employers are not conducting workplace inspections to ensure everything is in order and there are no loose cables or sharp edges around.
- Lack of supervision: Employers must provide adequate supervision, especially during the induction or early stages of training, to ensure that employees are following safety protocols and procedures. Employees will need time to get used to a new environment and not supervising tasks could lead to dangerous consequences. Supervisions may also be required in later stages as well for risky duties. As with training, employers who do not provide adequate supervision are being negligent – this does not mean that you have to be looking over experienced employee’s shoulders every minute, but even experienced employees need someone around to respond if something goes wrong.
- Not responding to incidents: Employers need to take reports of accidents, near misses or incidents seriously to avoid further issues. However, many companies fail to respond to these reports. Failing to take corrective action is another example of workplace negligence that will likely cause more problems in the future.
Consequences of workplace negligence
Now that we have established what workplace negligence is. What exactly can it lead to? Employees can suffer in a number of ways and are usually the ones that are impacted the most. However, the business does not survive unscathed. Some consequences include:
-Mental health issues
Physical injuries are not only painful but they can also cause long-term disabilities. Lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) or not ensuring it is worn properly by employees can lead to burns, potential sight issues and cuts. For example, a construction worker without a safety helmet or steel-capped shoes may suffer a head or foot injury from falling objects or debris.
When an employee gets physically injured at work it can lower the overall productivity of other employees as they are afraid to perform the same task. Employee morale will drop which will cause a worse output for the company since staff feel like they are not looked after. Moreover, the staff member involved in the accident will need to take days off due to the injury and might not come back to work for a long period of time. As a result, the organisation will need to spend a lot of time and money recruiting new employees.
Mental health issues
Not training employees adequately for their job position can cause them to experience anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. They may not feel like they are the right person for the job, they might feel overwhelmed and they might fall victim to imposter syndrome as they have not received enough guidance. This can impact their work-life balance as they try to complete tasks on time while being unable to. Their job satisfaction is likely to be low as they are heading into burnout.
Physical injuries can also cause mental health issues as employees suffer after work accidents that could leave them without work or with high costs. Employees might also need to take some time off to focus on their mental health so it does not deteriorate further. As a result, companies suffer from lost work time that could have been prevented.
Workplace negligence will likely lead to long investigations to determine the cause of incidents, especially if the incident attracts a lot of attention – it may even result in an external investigation from a safety regulator. These investigations, and the outcomes we mention below, are usually more expensive than the measures required to manage risks and avoid negligence. Investigations into workplace incidents tend to be long, expensive and can lower the productivity of other employees. The company will need to spend a lot of time finding the right people to investigate, spending time on planning and then carrying out the investigation.
The investigations can become even more expensive if the process is carried out in an inefficient manner. To avoid this, our customers choose Polonious to assist with improving the investigation process and supporting the investigation team for a faster outcome.
If the investigation finds that the incident occurred as a result of workplace negligence, then more costs are about to follow in the form of lawsuits and employee compensations along with reputation damage.
If employees are injured or killed due to workplace negligence, the legal repercussions can be devastating, with lawsuits and settlements costing millions of dollars. Employees can be found liable for negligence and the victim of the negligence can sue for damages.
In extreme cases, employees may be unable to return to work permanently or temporarily, leading to financial strain and ruined career prospects.
As a result of workplace negligence, employees are often entitled to compensation for their losses. This compensation may cover medical expenses, lost wages and, in some cases, pain and mental health problems. In instances where employees are unable to return to work, compensation may also include provisions for long-term disability, vocational rehabilitation, and other necessary support.
How can a business avoid being accused of workplace negligence? There are many steps an organisation can take to ensure that it puts safety first.
Risk assessments can help a business avoid workplace negligence. A risk assessment is the process of identifying hazards, analysing them and then determining how likely they are to occur. The higher the likelihood and the impact, the faster and the greater the response must be.
To conduct a risk assessment companies need to:
- Detect the threats: Look for anything that could potentially cause harm, tangible things such as office equipment, cables, lack of organisation, as well as harm in things that may not be visible such as lack of education surrounding the use of a machine.
- Identify stakeholders: It is not just employees who could be exposed to workplace negligence. There could also be contractors and visitors that may be there for a shorter period of time. The employer is still responsible for their safety.
- Assess the risks: In this step, the business needs to assess how likely it is for the risk to materialise. How likely is it for employees to hurt themselves when using a printer, and how badly? It is not likely, except perhaps for some bending movements, and the consequences are not severe. But very loud machinery could lead to them becoming annoyed, getting headaches, feeling more fatigued and defeated, or even becoming deaf. This is the severity the business needs to consider.
- Prioritise the risks: Once risks have been identified and assessed, the company needs to prioritise them in terms of urgency. Those at the top will require an immediate response. Risks with a higher likelihood and/or severity get a higher priority.
- Implement control measures: Based on the findings of the risk assessment, the organisation needs to come up with control measures that will reduce the likelihood and severity of an incident. Protective equipment is an example of a control measure.
- Review and monitor: After a risk assessment has been finalised, the business should schedule when the next one will be. This ensures that the company stays on top of the risk environment and detects threats as early as possible and prepare an appropriate response. While failing to conduct a risk assessment is not workplace negligence on its own, failing to take control measures could classify as workplace negligence.
Employees will need regular and thorough training that will help them get familiar with their work tasks, machines and protective gear. Successful training will leave the employee feeling confident (not overly) and knowledgeable. Beyond how to use equipment, the training should inform them of safe work practices, how to identify potential hazards and how to report incidents.
It should also tell them what their rights are and stress the importance of a safe workplace. It should be communicated to employees that consequences will follow from negligent behaviour and what these could look like for people who do not comply with workplace policies and procedures.
Businesses are required by law to document incidents in the workplace. A one-off minor incident may not be given enough attention but a series of near misses in the same space might indicate that a lot of change is needed to protect employees. Encouraging employees to report incidents and keeping track of them will allow the business to dig deeper and understand what exactly is the root cause of the problem. A loose cable in itself may not be as harmful as a workplace-wide cable disorganization.
Documenting an incident can also encourage accountability. By bringing an issue to the attention of the manager and having evidence that an employee did so, the manager will not be able to say that they were not aware. This can prevent other people from being blamed for an accident and potential retaliation. Accountability will also make it more likely for employees and managers to take action as they know they would be the first ones people will mention (if they work in that space).
Work health and safety audits
To avoid injuries, high turnover rates and legal repercussions, organisations can conduct work health and safety audits. Work health and safety audits examine the workplace in detail to assist companies in identifying risks. Similarly to risk assessments, these audits are comprehensive and aim to assess all aspects of a workplace, including the workspace, equipment and procedures. By identifying potentially dangerous conditions or behaviour, work health and safety audits allow employers to take steps to fix issues before they lead to accidents.
Work health and safety audits also help organisations to comply with relevant legal requirements and industry standards. An audit will usually start with a desktop review of relevant laws and standards, and any recent changes. This ensures that employers are not being negligent and are aware of new law developments.
Important to note
Workplace negligence may seem beneficial if employers think they are saving money in the short term, but it only has serious disadvantages in the long term. It is better to spend money in the short term to avoid horrible situations in the future that could fatally harm someone.
Polonious assists its clients with conducting investigations into workplace negligence to ensure that an incident is prevented. We help our customers find the root cause of the problem, provide them with an efficient system that saves them time and money and automate their workflows so they can focus on their core business tasks. If you want to investigate workplace negligence and you are looking for a system to support you, reach out!
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