Work in the Armed Forces can, to the uninformed outsider, appear far more hazardous than almost any job they might care to consider outside of the military. The tendency is to believe that members of the armed forces spend much of their time handling weapons, munitions and explosives, parachuting out of aircraft, riding over rough terrain in huge, heavy armoured vehicles and generally risking life and limb twenty four seven.
In actual fact, with the exception of combat, they are as safe at work as most people and a good deal safer than many. That is because the Ministry of Defence (MoD) or any sub-contractor employing people in the military are under the same legal duty as any other employer to ensure that workplaces are safe and to ensure as far as is reasonably practicably the health and safety of their employees.
Only in very rare and exceptional cases will the Secretary of State for Defence exempt the MoD from having to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 on grounds of ‘national security’ or due to what is called the ‘combat exemption’; where personal injury claims cannot be brought in instances where the injury was sustained when the victim was in a combat zone and exposed to enemy action.
Consequently the causes of most of the work accidents in the military tend to be the same as the causes of similar accidents in other work sectors. Accidents involving slips and trips and manual and other handling statistically predominate, followed by being hit by an object and falls from height. This suggests that, as is still frequently found in ‘civvy street’, there can be instances in the military of poor health and safety practice around keeping the workplace clean and tidy to prevent slips and trips and providing sufficient or adequate manual handling training and reinforcing that training in a timely manner.
Less frequent instances of failures to keep military personnel safe at work manifest as injuries sustained as the result of inadequate clothing in cold and wet weather, friendly fire, sports accidents, military medical negligence, training accidents, road traffic accidents and psychological trauma/combat stress. Most of the accidents are avoidable, a considerable proportion are not the fault of the victim and just because that victim is a serving member of the military does not in any way mean that they are not permitted or entitled to make a workplace military accident claim for compensation.