It is the employer’s obligation to provide a safe workplace

The Queensland Court of Appeal has upheld a trial judge’s decision to award $420,000 in damages to an employee who slipped on an office chair on top of a slippery mat.

Background

The Plaintiff worked in an office cubicle using a chair on castors and was instructed by her employer to place a plastic mat under the chair. The mat was very slippery and, according to a fellow employee, would “just flick out from under you”. The Plaintiff and another employee complained to the officer manager that the mats were “dangerous and hazardous” and ”so slippery”, but were told management wanted them there.

The accident occurred when the Plaintiff, after standing up to retrieve a book from the shelf above, started to sit back down on the chair. However, the chair had moved while the Plaintiff was standing and she instead fell to the floor fracturing her sacrum.

The trial judge awarded the Plaintiff $420,000 in damages, which the Defendant appealed in its entirety or, alternatively that the award should be reduced.

Decision

Although the defendants argued that the mat didn’t cause the plaintiff to fall, and the injury sustained was the plaintiff’s fault, the court held that there was not enough evidence to prove the defendants claim.

The Court held that there was no basis to interfere with the Trial Judge’s findings that the Defendant was liable should be affirmed and the assessment of the plaintiff’s damages rejected.

Lesson

It is the employer’s obligation to provide a safe workplace, a reasonable employer ought to have regard to complaints or express notifications made by employees as to the safety of equipment they are directed to use in the course of their employment.

Employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide employees with safe systems of work.

They must also ensure:

  • the provision and maintenance of a work environment that is without risks to health or safety
  • the safe use, handling-including transport-and storage of plant, structures and substances
  • the provision of any information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking
  • the provision of, and access to, adequate facilities for the welfare of workers at the workplace, and
  • the health of workers and the conditions at the workplace are monitored for the purpose of preventing work-related illness or injury. [1]

In order for an employer to meet their obligations, they must investigate all safety complaints made by employees.

If you have been injured, please contact:
Matthew Bridger | e: mbridger@elringtons.com.au | p: 02 6206 1300 http://elringtons.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Specialist-accreditaion.jpg

[1] Work Health and Safety Duties – Safe Work Australia

Note: This publication is intended only to provide a summary of the subject matter covered. It does not purport to be comprehensive or to render legal advice. No reader should act on the basis of any matter contained in this publication without first obtaining specific professional advice.