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Injury of an employee due to an unsafe system of work

Anderson v AWWW Pty Ltd [2013]

QDC155

12 July 2013

It was a liability and quantum matter.

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 an aggravation of a pre existing condition, if an employer is found to be negligent in implementing and/or enforcing a safe system of work, the Court can award damages.

Background

The injured worker (the claimant) was employed as a casual shop assistant and was injured on 8 May 2008. She alleges that she suffered an injury to the right heel and an injury to the right achilles tendon. The injured worker was assisting in loading approximately 20 to 22 cartons of washing powder with a combined weight of approximately 240 to 264 kilograms on to a flattop trolley with the intention to wheel the trolley to the area of the supermarket where the washing powder was to be stacked on to the shelves. Following the loading of the washing powder the injured worker commenced pulling the trolley from its position with the intention of turning it to push the trolley to its intended destination. As the injured worker was pulling the trolley a fellow staff member called out for assistance at which time the injured worker unsuccessfully attempted to stop the trolley moving towards her resulting in the trolley impacting with her right lower limb.

Liability

The aspects of the employer's (the defendant) operations were questioned by the Court and was found that the injury could have been prevented if the defendant:

  • Redesigned the system of work by using, for example, a powered pallet jack, a walkie stacker or a small electric forklift
  • Used alternate powered trolleys
  • Provided manual handling training

The court found that it was dangerous for a female worker to have been pulling a trolley with in excess of 240kg of stock in it.

The defendant argues that the task the injured worker was undertaking was relatively simple requiring her to pay due attention to the movement of the trolley. The trolley did not move in an unexpected way. The risk involved was minor and the defendant did not need to tell the injured worker to be more careful as it was obvious the injured worker should pull it slowly so the operator could control its progress without difficulty.

The defendant argued that other employees who have performed the same task and used the same system of work did not sustain any injuries.

Findings

In awarding damages, the Court heard the opinions of various medical providers who assessed the injured worker during her claim and that it was predictable that musculoskeletal damage could occur for someone attempting to suddenly stop a loaded trolley of the size in question.

The judge preferred the evidence of the plaintiff to the evidence of the witnesses and accepted the injured workers denial that the trolley was easy to move and accepted her explanation as to what exactly happened which caused the trolley to roll into her heel.

Judge Smith delivered the verdict on the case of Anderson v AWWW Pty Ltd on Friday 12 July 2013. Judgment was made for the Plaintiff in the sum of $62,681.43. The claimant was found guilty of contributory negligence to the extent of 25%.