Employers’ Liability – A Starting Point

Personal Injury

28 April 2023

This article provides a brief introduction to the concept of employers’ liability and considerations for claims against employers for injuries suffered at work.

The Duties of the Employer

An employer has a duty to take reasonable care of the health and safety of their employees in the course of their employment. The scope of this will also include assessing and mitigating any risk at the workplace as far as reasonably practicable to not expose any employee to unnecessary risk.

Accidents post-1 October 2013 are usually dealt with by way of common law negligence (with reference to Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 section 69). Relevant regulations that may be evidence of this are addressed in this article.

The common law duty is non-delegable and cannot be discharged by entrusting the employee’s safety to another employee or even a contractor (though see the points made below). When considering any claims that encompass a fellow employee or a contractor, an employer will be required to demonstrate that they and the person to whom the relevant duty was delegated exercised reasonable care in discharge of said duty as part of any response to a claim.

Employers’ duties will likely vary depending on the specific facts of the case and workplace. The longstanding authority (and often, the starting point for claims) is Wilsons & Clyde Coal Co v English ​[1938] AC 57. Reasonable care was defined in that case as an employer having a duty to exercise reasonable due care and skill in providing the following to their employees:

Safe plant, materials and equipment

It may be argued that an accident occurred because the necessary work equipment was not provided by the employer, or the equipment provided was inadequate. This is an example of where referring to any alleged breaches of statutory duty (in this case, Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (SI 1998/2306) and Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (SI 1992/2966)) may assist as part of evidencing negligence under this header. This can cover large and complex machinery to something as basic as an office table. Questions to be asked under this header can include the frequency and method of inspection and the regularity (if at all) of any replacement.

A safe system of work and safe working practices

This is a wide-ranging requirement and will depend on each case. Starting points are: the layout of the area; the method and sequence in which work is carried out; providing instructions; and the provision of safety precautions and notices. The employer is required to take care to see that the relevant system in place is complied with.

Competent staff as colleagues

An employer may be vicariously liable for the negligence of an employee which results in injury to a colleague and may also be personally liable under its own common law duty. In certain circumstances, vicarious liability may be extended beyond employment or business relationships, where the relationship between the relevant subject and employer is sufficiently akin to that of employment, however, consideration of this in detail is beyond the scope of this article.

It speaks for itself, but the general point is that an employer is under a duty to take reasonable care to provided competent fellow workers to their employees. Points that may be raised on this usually relate to the employers’ knowledge (or knowledge they ought to have had) of the fellow worker’s competency or actions when considering the circumstances of any accident.

Safe premises and a safe place to work

Another useful set of regulations under this heading is the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, SI 1992/3004 and the employers’ duties to maintain the relevant equipment, provide adequate ventilation, temperature, and lighting, maintain furniture, fittings, floors, walls, and ceilings, arrange workstations and access to work areas suitably, and have in place suitable measures to prevent injury from falling objects as examples. This can be a common header relied on when considering slipping and tripping cases.

Statutory Duties

As well as the above, there are further regulations that may be of assistance when considering any claims involving construction accidents, manual handling, working at height, and risk assessments and management.


To conclude, in bringing a claim against an employer, the onus will be on any claimant to consider the points above as part of any negligence claim. I hope this article has provided a useful introduction to the topic.

Contact us

The civil team at Becket Chambers provides representation and advice in personal injury cases of all levels of complexity and act for injured individuals seeking compensation as well as clients (including insurers) defending claims. If you require advice or assistance, do not hesitate to contact our team at clerks@becket-chambers.co.uk.

For help, advice or if you wish to instruct a member of Chambers, please contact our Clerking team