Workplace injury claims soar in Scotland

Patrick McGuire says that the notion of bogus compensation claims is a "myth".
Patrick McGuire says that the notion of bogus compensation claims is a "myth".
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COMPENSATION claims for personal injuries in the workplace in Scotland have risen by 25 per cent – six times the increase of similar claims in England, according to new figures.

Claims in Scotland increased from 4,955 in the year 2010-11 to 6,191 in 2011-12.

In comparison, similar claims made in England have risen by just 3.7 per cent, from 71,006 to 75,323 – according to figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Work and Pensions’ compensation recovery unit.

Patrick McGuire, a partner with Thompson – a legal firm that acts for Scotland’s major trade unions – suggested claims could rise even higher than at present. According to figures from the Health and Safety Executive, there were 10,135 reported injuries to employees in Scotland in the past year.

Mr McGuire said the notion of spurious claims being driven by a compensation culture was a “grave myth”.

“Given the preponderance of employment in agriculture and construction, plus the significant rates of accidents in this country, we would expect a lot more claims,” he said.

“There are still not enough Scots seeking their just recompense if they are injured at work.”

Fear of losing their job and not getting another one, particularly in the current economic climate, held workers back from making claims, he said.

“The tragedy is not that there is a corrosive narrative of the compensation culture and that too many people are claiming and it has all got to stop. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is that too many workers are being injured and not everyone that could claim is doing so.”

Awards for compensation can range from £1,000 up to a quarter of a million or more depending on the severity of the injury. Psychological as well as physical harm is taken into account, as is loss of earnings and any reduction in future job prospects.

Workers can make a claim through their union’s solicitors or through no-win-no-fee claims companies – a route taken by former fisherman Cameron Mitchell, 53, from MacDuff.

He slipped on oil on a boat deck and broke his neck. “I now have a steel plate in my neck,” he said. “Fishing involves working in rough seas with heavy machinery. It is a difficult and dangerous job. There is no way I could go back to it.”

Money from his compensation claim has enabled him to gain an industry-recognised health and safety qualification and he is now in employment as a quality safety health and environment officer with an offshore oil company.

“The money gave me breathing space so that I could get my qualification,” Mr Mitchell said. “I’ve also been able to buy my mother’s council home.”

Gerry Forbes, from Quantum Claims in Aberdeen, said: “If workers are injured at work they are entitled to compensation. It is a fair system. No-one is paid compensation unless their claim is legal and valid.”

Chris Birkle, spokesman for the Association of Personal Injuries Lawyers, said: “Scots workers are not simply being gripped by a compensation culture. They are merely asserting their rights. When people in other walks of life act negligently they have to pay to help redress the balance.”

He added “If the knock-on effect of a claim for compensation is to help improve safety practices so that tragedies are not repeated, we would welcome this as a positive thing.”