Personal accident insurance is a way of taking responsibility for our own health and safety instead of playing the blame game

We’ve all got them – stories about ridiculous “elf ‘n’ safety” rules that restrict the use of common sense, such as officials refusing to rescue people in peril because they are not trained to undertake a risky but reasonable task, and then preventing members of the public from having a go themselves.

So have we got the health and safety culture we deserve? We, the British public, have become ever more willing to play the blame game in pursuit of compensation. Incidents that would previously have been met with a shrug of the shoulders and a quick dusting down now trigger dreams of hefty payouts.

Claims farmers and ambulance chasers have been all too happy to stoke the fire, building themselves a multimillion-pound industry in the process. But we all pay the price via a hugely expensive legal system and swollen insurance premiums.

There is recognition that this has to change. Lord Young’s recent review of health and safety encouraged greater responsibility for personal actions – a move that would align with the government’s ‘Big Society’ ideal.

Lord Young didn’t say we could ignore risk – the health and safety culture grew out of awareness of the threats and dangers that exist all around. But what his review could do is lead to people taking more responsibility for themselves. You could see it as a sort of personal risk management process. And a big part of this will be making your own provision for any financial needs if risk turns to reality and something does go wrong.

This is where the insurance sector should play a constructive, positive role by promoting cost-effective solutions such as personal accident (PA) cover.

PA insurance offers real value to brokers and their clients – both personal and commercial. There is a lack of awareness of what this cover offers, but it could have been designed with the compensation culture in mind because it is a valuable method of quickly accessing much-needed funds following an accident, without having to pursue compensation from another party through the courts.

Someone pursuing a personal injury claim through the courts, for example, will usually have to prove that there has been a breach of statute or a failure in the duty of care. But establishing fault or negligence is not required before a PA policy will pay out. Claimants must simply show that the event occurred (and, of course, that any exclusions do not apply).

PA claims are also usually completed much faster than legal proceedings and settlements. And the litigious need not worry: just because someone receives payments from their PA policy, it does not restrict or impede them from also seeking damages through the courts where such action fits the bill.

This class of business has added attractions for brokers in that it is straightforward to arrange. As employers can choose how many and which members of staff are included on the policy, it can be tailored to clients’ needs and budgets.

If the Big Society is to work, we need to recognise that risk is a part of day-to-day life and crack down on the culture of compensation. It is time for PA cover to play its part. IT

Neil Thunström is head of personal accident and travel at Groupama Insurances.