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Employers must provide safe work system

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This case study demonstrates

  • The Court expects employers to implement and enforce a safe system of work to ensure that workers are not injured while at work.
  • Regardless if an injury is minor and has caused minimal or no significant long term effects, if an employer is found to be negligent in implementing and/or enforcing a safe system of work, the Court can award substantial compensation to an injured worker

The facts

The injured worker (the claimant) was employed as a slaughterman or knifeman for Queensland Abattoir Corporation at Murrarie. Prior to beginning his employment with Queensland Abattoir Corporation in 2000, the injured worker had worked for other abattoirs as a slaughterman for 21 years.

On 1 September 2000 the injured worker suffered a severed laceration of his left wrist and hand (his non-dominant hand) when an animal struck the worker’s right arm, leading to the knife injury on his left arm.

Two aspects of the employer’s (the defendant) operations were questioned by the Court:

  • the employer providing a safe system of work on the slaughter line, and
  • supplying cut-resistant gloves to the injured worker and others employed in similar roles.

Liability

The injured worker told the Court that his employer failed to provide him with cut-resistant gloves, instruct him to wear the gloves, and provide him with training on how to perform his duties while wearing the gloves.

The employer counter-argued, saying that cut-resistant gloves where provided and that the injured worker was at fault for not wearing them.

Evidence submitted to the Court proved that cut-resistant gloves were available at the time of the worker’s injury and that had the worker been wearing a glove on his left hand, the knife would not have cut his flesh—and therefore preventing the injury.

Further evidence proved that the employer did not direct or insist that certain workers (those employed in the same area as the injured worker) wear cut-resistant gloves—rather they informed these workers that they didn't need to wear them while performing their duties.

The employer explained to the Court that they did not insist that these certain workers wear cut-resistant gloves as the workers were resistant to change, it was a ‘militant’ workforce, and because the employer was reluctant to carry out any action which might provoke industrial conflict.

The Court accepted the injured worker’s evidence that the employer had failed to provide a safe system of work and although he was supplied with cut-resistant gloves, he was not instructed or forced to wear them by the employer.

Judgement/damages

The employer was found to be negligent and in breach of Section 312 of the WorkCover Queensland Act 1996 (the Act). Section 312(1)(a) and (b) of the Act state:

  1. that the employer had made no genuine and reasonable attempt to put in place an appropriate system of work to guard the worker against injury arising out of events that were reasonably readily foreseeable
  2. that the actual and direct event giving rise to the worker’s injury was actually foreseen or reasonably readily foreseeable by the employer.

The Court ruled there was an unsafe system of work that was reasonably foreseeable and preventable by the employer.

In awarding damages, the Court heard the opinions of various medical providers who assessed the injured worker during his claim. It was generally accepted by these treating medical providers that the injured worker could return to manual handling work, including his pre-injury employment with Queensland Abattoir Corporation, however, this was complicated due to the development of a non-work related condition after his workplace injury. The condition meant that the injured worker was unable to return to manual handling work—an area of work in which he was experienced and skilled.

The Court awarded the injured worker $127 900 net and $29 050 was refunded to WorkCover Queensland for costs relating to the injured worker’s statutory claim.

The award for damages included $37 500 of future economic loss and $3375 for future loss of superannuation. This award was granted by the Court even though it was accepted that the injured worker’s inability to perform manual handling work was not due to his work injury, but rather a post-work event unrelated to his workers’ compensation claim. The Court ruled that it was reasonable to allow two years for lost earnings, as a likely consequence of the injured worker’s disability caused by his work related injury.

NB: The WorkCover Queensland Act 1996 was applied in this judgement due to the date of the injury. Injuries sustained after 2003 are assessed under the current Act, The Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003.

Other details

Court: Brisbane Supreme Court
Judge: Justice Richard Chesterman RFD
Decision date: 30 July 2004
Insurer: WorkCover Queensland

Last updated
01 July 2015

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