Injured at work – now what?

2014-07-01 20:21

It is alarming to hear the number of people that are injured at work in South Africa on a virtual daily basis. And despite the fact that employers are insured against the medical expenses of work related accidents under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, there are still countless people with no proper recourse when getting injured at work.

Some employers just refuse to submit a claim to the Compensation Commissioner as it will adversely affect their assessment for the next year or they will lose their “rebates” or “no claim bonus”, whilst others have a “safety record” or Star Grading they want to maintain and would rather have you sit at work in stitches than booking you off to get proper medical treatment.

Firstly, it is not the employer’s decision if an accident occurred at the workplace or not. Nor is it the employer’s decision if a claim should be submitted or not. Section 39 of the COID act makes it clear that an employer shall report an accident to the commissioner within 7 days after receipt of notice thereof or having heard in some way of the accident. The word “Shall” indicates that the employer has no other option. There is no “may” or “could”, but a loud and clear “shall”. Failing to report an accident is a criminal offence, and it is rather stupid to claim to comply with safety laws and having a safety record, yet breaking the other laws that affords protection to employees.

It is also illegal to refuse to provide the injured employee with a copy of the accident report. Many employers take down the “claim” but fail to report it after the fact. However, most hospitals refuse to treat an injured person without a properly signed and completed accident report.

The fact is that once the Employer’s report of an accident has been submitted, the Compensation Commissioner’s office decides if the claim should be honored or not. It seldom happens that a claim is rejected, and in some cases the Commissioner may ask an inspector to investigate such an accident if the circumstances are suspicious.

Before you now jump to action, and confront your employer, it is important that the term “Accident” is properly explained.

The law defines an accident as “arising out of and in the course of an employee's employment and resulting in a personal injury, illness or the death of the employee”. You cannot get injured on the football field and claim compensation. The accident has to happen “because of your job”.

Here are some examples:

You are employed as a receptionist, but during lunch your employer sends you to the shop to buy some stationery. On your way there, you slip and sprain your ankle. You were doing something “in the course of your employment” and it is a work related accident.

Or perhaps you are a machine operator, and you accidentally cut your finger on the machine while operating it. That is a work related accident.

Other scenarios are more tricky, but as example, you are asked to “volunteer” during your company’s sponsored Golf Day. You grab the chance, and offer to be a caddy. At the 7th Hole you get struck by a golf ball and end up in hospital with a concussion. That is in fact also a work related accident. Although you were only volunteering (not getting paid) you acted in the furtherance of your employer’s business. It was thus in the course of employment that you were injured.

Another thing about compensation is that it is not a get rich quick scheme. You cannot deliberately cut off a finger and think you will get millions like on TV. Sadly, you will only be paid a small percentage of your monthly wages. The purpose of compensation is to pay your medical expenses and a reasonable amount as lump sum for “the degree of permanent disablement”.

The proper way to deal with an accident is to report it “immediately” to your employer. Does not matter how minor it may seem. Report it. If you have to get medical attention, your employer will complete the Accident Report and take you to the nearest hospital.

But where your employer refuses to give notice of your accident, you must report it to the department of labour. There is a standard Affidavit (Statement) that you can complete and take it to your doctor. Some medical practitioners do not understand the process and would be of no assistance. It is then better to get the department of labour to assist you.

The other option is obviously more expensive, but you could see an attorney to handle the matter for you.

And finally, take care when you are at work. Despite all the legal requirements your employer need to comply with, you too have to comply with the company’s rules and requirements. Yes, that include that stupid ear thing you have to wear in the noisy areas. Health & safety rules are not just to make your life miserable. It is also there to save it. So get with the program.

Why? Because if the inspectors investigate your accident and found that you disobeyed section 14 of the Occupational Health & Safety Act, you could sit in jail next to your manager.

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