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The Rescue of the Chilean Miners: UK Health and Safety Regulations

Many years ago I used to act for miners who had sustained injuries whilst working down mines.  The particular area that I covered included the deep mines around the Stoke-on-Trent area. Having only ventured down the mine on one occasion, it is not for anyone with a claustrophobic disposition or indeed who is scared of the dark!The whole thought of working for many hours at a stretch, many hundreds of feet underground, with soil, clay and seams of coal above your head is enough to fill anyone in their right mind with trepidation. It is not surprising that some of the injuries that miners sustained whilst working underground were severe. Injuries such as degloving occurred where large lumps of coal fell from the ceiling despite metal mesh and girders specifically designed to prevent rock falls, and ripped away skin and muscle. The thought therefore of the Chilean miners who have now spent some weeks underground is not one that bears contemplating for long apart from that we obviously wish the miners and their families well and hope that they are rescued and see the light of day as soon as humanly possible.  These types of events bring home once again the comments that I have made in my previous Personal Injury blogs as to the dangers involved in numerous occupations around the world.  In many cases these occupations are carried out with only minimal safety measures in place. I recall vividly a programme on television I saw many years ago of miners in South America who were mining for diamonds and would literally lower themselves into mine shafts some distance below ground no wider than a human body. At the bottom of the mine shaft they would twist themselves so that they could crawl on their belly to dig for diamonds with nothing but a torch for company and absolutely no support whatsoever above their heads.  We are fortunate indeed to have Health & Safety Regulations that at least provide us with an element of safety whilst working in dangerous occupations.  Employers are required to implement safety regulations, provide personal protective equipment, and ensure that suitable equipment is generally provided for working at heights etc. In the absence of satisfactory guidelines, if someone was injured, the employer will not only be sued but is also likely to be successfully prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive. Whichever way health and safety is viewed, it must be the case that despite the press attempting to argue that this has led to a compensation culture which is fortunately incorrect and there are significant numbers who still decide that for their own reasons they do not wish to bring a claim, if we did not have health & safety legislation in place, I am quite sure that we would take a considerable step backwards towards the dark ages where children were forced to go up chimneys to earn a crust of bread.  For the same reason that an impartial judiciary is considered to be the main stay of any democracy, it must be right that health and safety legislation is an example of Society caring for its fellow man.Tristan Hallam is a partner in Personal Injury in the London office of Russell Jones & Walker. If you or a member of your family has suffered an accident or injury call our expert personal injury solicitors on 0800 916 9046, fill in our short online claim form or email and one of our specialist personal injury team will review your compensation claim for free.