Turkey’s worst-ever mining disaster serves as a strong reminder to those working in mines and other industries of the importance of health and safety regulations in the workplace, says one personal injury law firm.
This month’s tragedy in the western Turkish town of Soma killed just over 300 people. Police have made 25 arrests in the wake of the disaster, and the mine’s general and operations managers are among those who were detained, while recent days have seen fierce demonstrations against both the coal mine operators and the government.
An explosion sent carbon monoxide gas into the tunnels of the mine while nearly 800 workers were below the surface. But Soma Holdings has stressed negligence was not the cause, and that the collapse was caused by an unexplained build-up of heat. Others say it was due to an electrical fault.
In the UK, a leading personal injury law firm has issued a warning that the explosion should remind all employers of just how vital health and safety rules are to all workers but especially those who work underground in the nation’s mines.
The Turkish tragedy has occurred at a time when the British government has set out to “cut red tape” by consulting on health and safety in the country’s mining industry. The plan is to have one, fresh guidance document as a replacement for all current mining safety legislation.
But some personal injury solicitors say they are concerned about how this would enhance health and safety, or even maintain existing standards if this change went ahead.
Commenting on the Turkish situation, one firm of personal injury solicitors said: “The devastating events in Turkey remind us of the perils those who work in mines face every day. Any changes made in UK rules should improve and not lessen safety to avoid a similar tragedy happening in this country.”
The last British mining disaster took place in autumn 2011, at Gleison Colliery, in the Swansea Valley, South Wales, claiming four lives.
Mine owners MNS Mining Ltd and ex-pit manager Malcolm Fyfield are currently on trial for manslaughter for the deaths.
Babcock Flagship Ltd has been ordered to pay costs of £10,000 and a fine of £10,000 after three men employed to maintain the grounds of HMS Raleigh were diagnosed with Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
The three men employed to maintain the grounds of the naval base in Cornwall had used machinery such as hedge cutters and trimmers for up to 8 hours a day. The prolonged use of the vibrating tools led to permanent nerve damage.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive revealed the company had knowledge that vibration-related conditions or health issues could be exacerbated by the use of vibrating machinery and yet failed to take the necessary precautions to protect their workers.
Babcock Flagship Ltd had available to them reports between 2009 – 2011 which made them aware of the dangers of its staff developing Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome. The court was told that Babcock Flagship Ltld failed to put any precautionary measures in place to protect their staff either before or after having the reports available.
The HSE said the company failed to put any controls in place such as such as limiting their exposure to vibrating machinery or providing alternatives.
Speaking after the hearing, Health and Safety Executive Inspector Emma O’Hara said: “Almost half of all the ill-health reports sent to the Health and Safety Executive relate to Hand Arm Vibration and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome associated with working with vibrating tools, many from the horticulture industry.
The HSE has reported that half of all the ill-health reports sent to them relate to hand arm vibration and an estimated 2 million UK workers are at risk of vibration-related ill health such as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HVAS) and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Once damage has taken place there is little that can be done medically to treat the condition.
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome is normally suffered by workers in the mining, steel and engineering industries. Machinery that can cause HAVS include pneumatic drills and hammers, chainsaws, hand-held grinders and gardening equipment. Symptoms include tingling in the hands, aching in the wrists and forearms and numbness in the finger tips.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has taken swift action against an engineering company which it found to be risking the safety of its workers. An inspection by the HSE discovered that employees of UTS Engineering Ltd in Jarrow, Tyne and Wear, were being asked to make repairs to the roof of the company’s premises without proper safety provisions being made.
The public body visited the firm during September and October 2013 last year and saw that UTS Engineering Ltd was carrying out extensive improvements to its roof. A staff member had already been used to inspect the roof, re-felt areas and clear guttering. Inspectors deemed that work being undertaken was unsafe, due to there being unprotected edges and the risk that they could fall through fragile materials. A prohibition notice was issued immediately and prosecution procedures were undertaken.
On Monday May 20th 2014, South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court was told that the repair work was poorly planned and the person asked to carry it out was not competent for the required job.
The roof included several fragile materials, including Georgian-wired glass roof lights and vertical lights, but UTS Engineering Ltd was found to have not assessed the danger of this correctly. Guard rails should have been installed to help reduce the risk if someone falling and work close to fragile areas should have been completed from stagings, with workers being protected against falling through the materials by safety netting.
The company pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Work at Regulations act 2005 and was fined £24,000. It was also ordered to pay a further £1,146.80 in costs.
HSE inspector Fiona McGarry said the fact that nobody was injured was very “fortunate” as those working on the roof were exposed to a huge risk. She added that serious injuries and even deaths are too common and companies must ensure that proper planning is carried out before works begin.
Had someone been hurt, UTS Engineering Ltd would have been looking at a huge claim for compensation. Personal injury solicitors are experts in investigating cases thoroughly and UTS could easily have been faced with a seven figure settlement.
A landmark ruling , in which a decade-old personal injury settlement has been allowed to be re-opened, could lead to thousands of old cases being revised. Joanne Dunhill settled for £12,500 in 2003 for a head injury that she suffered, with the insurance company not accepting liability. However, a new claimant firm took over the case, and argued that she was not of sound mind and that the settlement should not stand. A number of people have said that the decision by the High Court to allow the case to reopen means that similar cases could also be revised in the future.
Joanna Dunhill, now 53, suffered a head injury in 1999 and agreed to an out of court settlement of £12,500 without the insurer admitting liability. Ordinarily, in such instances, this would mean that the case had drawn to a close and no further action would be taken. Courts do not have to be involved in a settlement, and this typically means that the insurer and the claimant agree to a settlement where no liability or blame is agreed. For the claim this can mean access to compensation sooner, and with no lengthy court case, while the insurer typically agrees to pay an amount that they believe would be less than the court would dictate.
Ms Dunhill approached a different claim firm, and following this her new representatives argued in High Court that she was not of sound mind, and therefore not in a position to be able to accept the settlement figure at the time. They have said that she is due significantly more money that she was awarded, and rather than pursue a professional negligence claim, Dunhill’s lawyers have successfully argued that the original case should be re-examined.
The High Court has agreed with the argument, and a court date will be set to determine the new level of compensation that Dunhill will receive. However, lawyers and insurers have met the decision with worry and scepticism, stating that it means thousands of old cases could be reopened. Lady Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, stated that protected parties required protection not only from themselves but from legal advisers too.
A specialist aviation barrister, Jonathan Chambers, has said that the lack of external data regarding the disappearance of flight MH370 could lead to the airline having to pay substantially more in compensation. Where the airline is able to show that they did nothing wrong, and were not at fault for death or injury caused on their plane, liability is limited to the equivalent of £100,000 per person. Where this cannot be proven, which is highly likely if the plane cannot even be located, they are open to unlimited personal injury liability. Mr Chambers went on to say that the industry as a whole should look more carefully into external data collection practices.
The vast majority of data recorded about a flight is recorded on the plane itself. From eye witness accounts, to the contents of the black box, and even the condition of the plane itself, if the plane and passengers cannot be found, then it means that the exact reason and cause of the accident cannot be proven. This is especially important to the airlines, because they must be able to show that they were not at fault. If they cannot call on any evidence from the plane, even though it may not be possible to prove that the airline were liable, they will not be able to prove otherwise.
The Montreal Convention is a specific set of rules that were drawn up in 1999 by members of the International Civil Aviation Organization. It is a multilateral treaty, which means all those that signed up agreed to be bound by the terms of the Convention. Primarily, it introduced a two-tier compensation system. Where airlines can prove they were not liable for damage or injury, their liability would be limited to £100,000. If they are not able to show this, then the liability amount is unlimited.
The search for flight MH370 continues, and even when the plane is found, it is uncertain what the findings will be and whether the airline is at fault, or will be able to prove that they are not. However, for now, at least, Malaysia Airlines faces a substantial compensation bill.
Essex County Council settled for £230,000 with a male teacher after he slipped on a Tomato Ketchup sachet and suffered severe injuries. Groups, including the Taxpayers’ Alliance, have condemned the settlement, which accounts for legal costs as well as losses to earnings and pensions, and compensation for the severity of the injuries suffered. A freedom of information request shows that the payment was just part of more than £1m paid to teachers by the council in three years.
Personal injury claims, and claims for accidents in the workplace, provide compensation to victims that suffer injuries and illnesses that are not their fault. Compensation is provided according to the extent of the injury, and a sum is also provided according to any loss of earnings and loss of other financial benefits, such as pension entitlements. The actual size of the compensation awarded, therefore, can vary considerably according to the details of the actual accident.
In the case of one teacher, Essex County Council opted to settle out of court, believing that the payment due would have been much higher when it included court and legal costs. Out of court settlement is a possibility with any such personal injury claim, although some insurance companies may demand that the case be contested.
A Freedom of Information request revealed the extent of the £230,000 payment. £90,000 was paid in damages for the extent of the injuries, while £120,000 was earmarked for legal fees and the remaining £20,000 we put aside for other costs. The request also showed that more than £1m was paid out during a three year period to teachers from the Essex district alone. A member of school staff was awarded £110,000 after slipping on a wet floor twice in the same day and suffering spinal injuries. One teacher was awarded £40,000 when a faulty metal door swung open.
Jonathan Isaby of the Taxpayers’ Alliance said that the payouts were a waste of taxpayer’s money. He went on to say that it meant that there was less money to pay teachers, and that it would result in higher tax bills for everybody else, in order to foot the bill for the compensation packages.
The Information Commissioner’s Office, the ICO, has said that personal injury firms could face penalties for using leads that have been collected unlawfully or using unlawful lead techniques. They have said that ignorance is no excuse, and that those companies that do continue to flaunt the rules could be hit with substantial penalties, even in cases where they have paid for the lads from a seemingly legitimate source, but it turns out that the lead generation firm had used practices like nuisance calls and texts.
It is common practice for law firms to use lead generation agencies to acquire their leads. This prevents the firm from having to undertake the process themselves, but it leaves them open to whatever strategies those firms use to generate the leads. There has been a clampdown against unlawful and nuisance lead generation tactics. Such tactics include unsolicited nuisance calls and spam texts. Such techniques do still continue, and many people complain that they receive multiple calls and texts in a short space of time.
Consumer group Which? conducted research that found eight in ten people receive at least one unsolicited call in any month. Worse still, the research went on to show that one in ten actually receive 50 or more calls in a one month period. The research also showed which categories of claims were most likely to generate the largest number of nuisance calls. Payment protection claims calls were made to six in ten people while personal injury calls were received by five in ten, or half of those asked. Which? has subsequently lobbied for heftier fines to be levied against those companies that are guilty of the calls and texts.
The Information Commissioner’s Office, the ICO, has said that a record number of complaints against personal injury companies were recorded during the last three months of 2013. A total of 1,645 complaints were made regarding personal injury claim companies and they have said that although they think many solicitors may be unaware they are breaching the laws, they should be prepared to perform due diligence when sourcing leads, because the fines will apply regardless of whether they knew how leads were being sourced.
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