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No breach of duty where cleaning system enforced

Scott v Jackson Garden Landscape Supplies Pty Ltd [2015] QDC

Andrews SC DCJ

17 February 2015

This decision highlights the importance of an employer not only having in place a system of work, but also maintaining and enforcing that system to guard against risk of injury.

Background

The plaintiff was employed as a casual weekend sales assistant with Jackson Garden Landscape Supplies. On 10 May 2008 she allegedly sustained an injury to her hip during a fall at her employer's premises, when she stepped on “an object/something”.

Throughout the pre-proceedings stage and into litigation (including at trial), the plaintiff was not able to identify what she stepped on to cause her fall. She alleged that the state of the concrete floor area where she had fallen was dangerous and unsafe as a result of the employer's failure to have in place a proper cleaning system. In her evidence, the plaintiff alleged that the concrete pad was covered in rubble and gravel and that she had made numerous complaints to co-workers and her manager about the state of the concrete pad.

The employer had in place a system for clearing the area, including hiring a junior employee on the weekends for the primary purpose of cleaning the yard area, including the concrete pad where the plaintiff fell. The employer had also instructed all employees to be vigilant about cleaning and to remove any objects on the floor during the course of their normal employment duties.

Liability

Judge Andrews noted that while an employer has a duty to take reasonable care for the safety of its employees, an employer need not safeguard an employee from all perils.

The plaintiff bore the onus of proof that the employer's cleaning system was less than what a reasonable employer would have provided when considering the risk of the plaintiff suffering an injury. In this circumstance, the plaintiff argued that the defendant provided a deficient cleaning system, but did not argue that the junior who was responsible for sweeping the area had been negligent in missing a piece of debris in the area where she fell on the relevant day.

Judgement

Judge Andrews accepted that on the morning of the plaintiff's fall the area where the plaintiff suffered her injury had been swept by the junior employee and accepted evidence from the defendant witnesses that the area was clean at the time of the fall.

It was also accepted that the employer's cleaning system included inspection by the weekend manager and overarching manager (both gave evidence that the area was clean prior to the plaintiff's accident).

Judge Andrews therefore held that he was not satisfied that the defendant employer had breached its duty of care by failing to provide an adequate cleaning system. He was also not satisfied that the plaintiff's fall was caused by a failure to take reasonable care to provide a safe place or work or an adequate cleaning system.

The plaintiff's claim was dismissed and the plaintiff ordered to pay the defendant's costs.