What is a duty of care?A duty of care means that there is a legal responsibility to put measures in place to protect your safety.
It could be a person that owes you a duty of care, or it could be a business, or it could be another type of organisation like a government or local authority.
If you get injured because someone failed to live up to their duty of care, they might owe you compensation.
This article will explore how duty of care works in different circumstances to give you a better idea of what your rights are.
Pubs, restaurants and other food and drink establishmentsWhen you’re visiting somewhere that sells food and drink, like a pub or a restaurant, you have a reasonable expectation of two things.
Firstly, that the restaurant or pub is free of immediate hazards that could cause an accident.
Secondly, that any food you buy is safe to eat and won’t make you ill.
The owner of the pub or restaurant owes you a duty of care to protect you from both of these things.
This means that they can be held responsible for any accident you have on-site, as well as for food poisoning caused by their produce.
To fulfil their duty of care to you, owners need to put measures in place to ensure the pub or restaurant itself is free of hazards, as well as measures to maintain a hygienic environment for handling food.
This might include measures such as:
- Cleaning up spilled food and drink as soon as possible to prevent customers slipping
- Providing serving staff with training to prevent accidents involving burns from spilled hot food and drink
- Maintaining hygienic and appropriate kitchen facilities
- Ensuring cooking staff are fully trained and qualified to prepare food to prevent customers getting food poisoning
- Labelling potentially harmful ingredients in foods that could cause an allergic reaction in food allergy sufferers
Products that you buyYou have a reasonable expectation that any product you buy from a reputable seller won’t pose a danger to you or anyone else who might interact with it.
The people who make these products have a duty of care to their customers to ensure that their products are safe to use.
The appropriate measures will vary across different products but might include measures such as:
- Carrying out extensive testing of the product to find possible issues
- Highlighting potential dangers of using the product and how these dangers might be prevented
- Providing instructions on how to safely use and maintain the product
- If a product has been recalled because it’s found to be dangerous, making reasonable attempts to contact you and alert you to the danger
When you’re being transported somewhere, whether by car, bus, train, or boat, you have a reasonable expectation that you will arrive at your destination safely.
The transport company or your driver owes you a duty of care. This means that they can be held responsible for accidents if they don’t follow appropriate safety measures.
These measures might include:
- Ensuring all drivers are qualified to handle the vehicle. For instance, bus drivers are legally required to have a professional driving qualification (the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence) on top of a standard car license
- Carrying out vehicle safety checks before each journey to check for any possible malfunctions that could cause an accident
- Have safety procedures in place to limit the harm of an accident
As an employeeWhen you’re working, it’s reasonable to expect that you won’t be exposed to any unnecessary dangers.
Your employer has a duty of care to make your workplace safe from physical dangers as far as possible. However, unlike the other examples we have looked at so far, the appropriate workplace safety measures will vary widely across industries.
Let’s explore how duty of care is applied across different workplaces.
ConstructionThe construction industry is one of the most dangerous industries to work in in the UK.
Of the 111 people who died while working between 2019/2020, 40 of them were construction workers, according to the Health and Safety Executive.
The construction industry sees a similar number of deaths each year, mostly caused by workers falling from a height while working.
Construction is an industry that covers a wide variety of often dangerous tasks, from working at height to removing asbestos. Up to a point, the risk is unavoidable.
But employers have a duty of care to their employees to make their work as safe as possible.
This might include such measures as:
- Providing staff with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), like safety helmets, steel-capped boots, masks, goggles, and high visibility jackets
- Carrying out risk assessments and identifying possible hazards before beginning any work
- Providing extensive training to workers before they’re allowed to operate heavy machinery and vehicles
- Making sure that workers are qualified to perform certain specialist tasks, like working at height
Office workFor a job made up mostly of sitting in comfy climate-controlled rooms, office work might seem risk-free. But while the risk of death is low, office workers are still exposed to health risks while doing their job.
Because office workers spend most of their time sitting down staring at a screen, they’re vulnerable to problems caused by bad posture, repetitive strain injuries, and eye injuries.
To reduce the risk of their workers suffering from these health issues, employers of office workers have a duty of care to provide an ‘ergonomic’ working environment – a work setup that allows employees to do repetitive tasks without developing injuries.
This might involve measures such as:
- Providing a well ventilated, climate-controlled office space that’s free of hazards like asbestos and damp
- Providing a variety of adjustable chairs, desks, and keyboards to suit a range of working styles
- Providing free eye tests and glasses to staff to reduce the risk of eye strain
- Offering regular opportunities for staff to get up and move around
Interestingly, the change in working habits brought about by Covid-19 has seen many employers’ duty of care extend into their employees own homes. With one in three British white-collar workers now based exclusively at home, their employers have a responsibility to provide them with ergonomic working equipment if they need it.
ManufacturingManufacturing is one of the more dangerous industries to work in.
Between 2019/20, there were 15 manufacturing workers who died while doing their job.
Unsurprisingly for a role that involves performing repetitive, often strenuous tasks at an industrial scale, most manufacturing injuries are caused by accidental contact with heavy machinery.
Like the construction industry, manufacturing work carries risks that are, to an extent, unavoidable. But employers of manufacturing workers still have a duty of care to their employees to reduce these risks as far as possible.
This might include measures such as:
- Providing training in proper working techniques and working with heavy machinery
- Giving regular breaks to workers to keep their minds focused on the task
- Rotating staff regularly to ensure that individual workers aren’t doing the same, monotonous job for extended periods of time
Why is duty of care important in personal injury claims?Duty of care is important in personal injury claims because it establishes who should be held responsible for causing an accident.
Duty of care is what turns an accident that wasn’t your fault into something that might deserve compensation.
For instance, the reason why accidents caused by a member of your family don’t qualify for a personal injury claim is because they don’t owe you a duty of care. It doesn’t matter how badly you’re injured and how much at fault they are. If they don’t owe you a duty of care, you can’t claim against them.
On the other hand, if you were to get injured in a restaurant after slipping on some spilled drink, you would be able to make a personal injury claim against the owner. It doesn’t matter that the owner wasn’t in that day and had no way of knowing that there was spilled drink on the floor. The fact is that they owed you a duty of care and measures should have been taken to prevent you from slipping.
The person who owed you a duty of care is who you make a personal injury claim against and who will ultimately pay you compensation if your case is successful.
If you think you might have a personal injury claim where a duty of care was not delivered, you can compare solicitors on The Law Superstore.