by Damien Degiorgio
Occupational injuries are a public health problem, estimated to annually cost the life of more than 300,000 workers globally and to cause several more cases of disability. In the not so distant past these occurrences were not protected by law and an injured worker was left to rue his fortunes, very possibly unable to earn a living for himself and his family as a result of his injuries and consequent disability.
Naturally such a position is not tenable in a civilised society and the workers’ rights in this respect have evolved dramatically, establishing stringent burdens on employers to provide a safe place and system of work.
Naturally the employer is granted the possibility of exonerating itself from responsibility if he can prove that the employee has in fact contributed, at least partly to the accident, by for instance not making full use of the safety equipment provided by the employer, by not abiding by reasonable procedures relative to the task at hand or by proving that indeed the accident was inevitable notwithstanding adherence to accepted standards of care.
It is indeed in the employee’s interest that the employer be afforded the opportunity of exonerating himself from responsibility as this offers an important incentive for the employer to ensure that the employee is provided with the proper training, the proper equipment and the proper practices to minimise the possibilities of an accident on the work place. It may in fact be argued that a strict liability approach against the employer, whereby an employer is always deemed at fault in the case of an occupational injury, would have negative effects on the way certain employers approach their employees’ safety, given that no matter how hard they might try to protect their workers, they would nonetheless be deemed to be responsible should an accident in fact occur.
Hence the current approach, whereby each case is dealt with on its own merits and our courts are empowered to consider the evidence brought before them and to decide whether the employer is in fact responsible for the injury sustained by his employee, offers an ideal platform to ensure that the system does not merely concentrate on forms of redress in the case of accidents but also an incentive for the establishment of preventive measures which should be given priority over remedial measures.