Oct 19, 2016

Compensation for injury in the Workplace

The Black's Law Dictionary, 9th Edition at page 320, defines compensation as:
"1. Remuneration and other benefits received in return for services rendered.....
2. Payment of damages or any other act that a court orders to be done by a person who has caused injury to another."
(Emphasis mine)
It is common for workers to suffer injury or incur liabilities during the course of employment. This is more common with employees whose employment require them to work with delicate and complex medium and heavy duty machinery, such as workers on an oil rig, a manufacturing company, a laundry service or even a restaurant.

However, though the Employees Compensation Act, 2010, provides that employers must pay compensation when an employee suffers injury arising from the conditions of employment. It is common to see these compensations delayed, frustrated and sometimes never paid. Several employees who suffered injury during the course of their employment have been forced to approach the Courts of law to mandate the unwilling employers to pay up. However, giving the slow pace of the law courts, which is a situation being speedily addressed by the National Industrial Court, most victims still tend to feel abandoned, stressed, angry and sometimes powerless in their situations.

The Employees Compensation Act, 2010, repealed the Workman’s Compensation Act, 2004, and seeks to provide an open and fair system of guaranteed and adequate compensation for all employees both in the public and private sector. However, the Act does not apply to members of the Armed Forces as stated in Section 3 of the Act.

The Act provides in Section 7, that –
“(1). Any employee, whether or not in a work place, who suffers any disabling injury arising out of or in the course of employment shall be entitled to payment of compensation in accordance with Part IV of the Act.  
 It must be noted that it is not compulsory for the worker to be at the point of duty when the injury occurred, as the Act provides other instances when the employee will be liable to compensation for injury suffered. The Act further provides in Subsection (2) that – 

“An employee is entitled to payment of compensation with respect to any accident sustained while on the way between the place of work and
a)           The employee’s principal or secondary residence,
b)           The place where the employee usually takes his meals, or
c)           The place where he usually receives remuneration provided that the employer has prior notification of such place. “ 

If the injury is as severe as to cause any disability to the employee from earning full remuneration at the work place, Subsection (3) provides that the compensation shall be payable pursuant to the Act from the first working day following the day of the injury, except that only a health care benefit shall be payable on the day of the injury. When the injury is caused by an accident which arose from the employment, it would be presumed that the injury happened in the course of the employment.

In C & C Const. Co. Ltd. v. Okhai (2003) 18 NWLR (Pt.851)79, the respondent while on duty which involved the servicing of the appellants' crane sustained grievous injuries arising out of the 2nd appellants failure as switch operator to use due care thereby causing the crane to become agitated and resulting in a drum of the crane to rollover violently over the respondent's left foot, crushing that leg below the knee. For this he was under great pain and suffering for which he was hospitalized and this eventually led to the amputation of that leg. The employee was awarded damages for loss of earning capacity, future loss and damages for pain and suffering.

 Usually, the employer is responsible for ensuring that the workplace is not dangerous and that tools, machinery and other equipment used by the employees are suitable for the task and safe. It is also the duty of the employer to ensure that the methods used to undertake the work, the system of supervision and general organization add up to a safe system of work. It should however be noted that the employer’s duty is only to take reasonable care and not protect the employee at all cost[i].  

Adedunmade Onibokun Esq,
Adedunmade is the Principal Partner of Adedunmade Onibokun & Co., a corporate commercial law firm located in Lagos, Nigeria. He also publishes the Legalnaija blog, an online platform dedicated to educating Nigerians on their legal rights and obligations. He can be reached via dunmadeo@yahoo.com

[i] Gwyneth Pitt (2007). Employment Law. 6th ed. London : Sweet & Maxwell. 410.