Duty of care is a legal term that refers to a business’, employer’s or service provider’s obligation to put reasonable measures in place to ensure that everyone associated with them is fully protected from any physical or psychological harm.
When an individual or business fails to live up to their duty of care, it is considered a breach of duty and the entity responsible for the negligence may be held liable.
General Duty Of Care
Although every workplace has its own very specific requirements, in general all organisations are required to have the following in place to comply with the duty of care clause:
- Conduct a thorough risk analysis of that specific site, whether it is a store, factory, office, school, residential building, or construction site.
- Use the results of the risk analysis to put safety measures in place to ensure that the specific site is reasonably safe for all employees and visitors.
- Have a clear policy statement regarding duty of care and make it known to all management and staff. Ignorance in this regard is no defence in case of any accident on site.
- Provide extensive training to all employees on general safety issues as well as specific training relevant to the employee’s job function.
- Provide all employees with relevant specialised personal protection equipment depending on their job function.
- Make sure all training is up to date and complies with the current laws and latest OSHA guidelines.
- Ensure that the organization is adequately staffed so employees do not work excessive hours
- Establish clear communications channels for reporting violations, concerns, and accidents on site.
- Establish clear policies and regarding harassment, bullying, and discrimination in the workplace.
What This Means To You As An Employee Or Consumer
Duty of Care in English law was established to protect you against injury resulting from somebody else’s negligence or mistake.
As an employee
In the workplace, your employer has a legal obligation to ensure that you are safe from any physical injury by providing you with adequate training as well as appropriate personal protective equipment. Your employer also has a duty of care to protect you from psychological harm in forms such as bullying or harassment. A workplace breach of duty may occur if your employer fails in their responsibilities, and you are injured as a result of this negligence.
As a patient
When you undergo any type of medical treatment, the medical practioner has a duty of care to ensure that you receive the highest standard of care. As an example, if a doctor is negligent in meeting the appropriate level of care, it may be considered as medical negligence. Medical negligence may apply in the case of a wrongful diagnosis, misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis.
As a consumer
Manufacturers are legally required to ensure that their products are safe for consumers to use. In addition to carrying out extensive testing, all products must have easily visible labels warning users about potential dangers of using the product and how these dangers may be prevented. Failure to place a warning notice is a breach of duty on the part of the manufacturer.
As a visitor
Shop owners have a duty of care towards anyone who visits their premises. This includes ensuring that all liquid spills are immediately mopped up, the aisles are obstruction-free, and the carpeting does not have any tears that cause a trip hazard. Property owners are responsible if any visitor to their premises is injured in a slip, trip or fall accident caused by their negligence.
As a diner
Restaurants have a two-fold duty of care towards their patrons. One is to ensure that their premises are free from any hazards that may case slip, trip or fall accidents. The second is to take care that their hygiene standards are impeccable in the kitchen and in the restaurant itself. This applies to all aspects, from buying and storing produce, to cooking and serving foods.
As a user of public transportation
Whether you are traveling by bus, train, ferry or tram, you expect to get to your destination safely without any accidents or injuries occurring. If you are injured because of a vehicle malfunction or driver negligence, the transport company or the driver may be held liable depending on the cause of the accident.
Practical Applications Of Duty Of Care Across Different Workplaces
Duty of care could mean different things in different industries and in different workplaces.
In the construction industry, it would involve ensuring that measures are put in place to keep workers safe from a host of physical and chemical hazards that can be present on construction sites. This includes providing workers with safety helmets and boots, protective eye-wear, and other personal protective equipment such as face masks where appropriate. Employers must also ensure that all scaffolding and ladders are secure, all loose wiring is secured, and heavy equipment and machinery are only operated by those who are experienced in that particular task.
In an office, the safety measures are quite different from that of a construction site. Here an employer’s duty of care involves ensuring that the workplace is ergonomically designed to minimise the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome, tenosynovitis, and other repetitive stress injuries.
In a car repair workshop, in addition to providing all mechanics with the appropriate training, the right tools for the job and personal protection equipment such as gloves and safety goggles, employers must also ensure that the premises are free from all hazards. This includes making provisions for adequate ventilation so that dangerous vehicle exhaust does not build up inside the garage.
In schools, typical areas of concern range from bullying and personal safety to food and fire safety. This applies to the students, teachers, non-teaching departments, and visitors to the school premises.
In factories and manufacturing plants where workers perform strenuous physical tasks that are often repetitive in nature, an employer’s duty of care may range from providing training in proper work techniques, to ensuring proper rotation of staff so no one person is working at the same job for extended periods of time.
Why Duty Of Care Should Matter To You
Understanding the implications and applications of duty of care will give you a better idea of your rights and responsibilities in different circumstances. It could make the difference between forfeiting your legal rights and getting the compensation due to you for any no-fault injuries.