Trip hazard costs employer $688k

An employer that adopted a reactive approach to repairing faults, instead of a proactive system of inspection and maintenance, has been ordered to pay $688,000 in damages to a worker who tripped over a redundant floor fixture.

Victorian Supreme Court Justice John Keogh found Goodyear and Dunlop Tyres (Aust) Pty Ltd negligently exposed workers to the risk of injury as the floor’s condition deteriorated over time.

“The need for systems of regular inspection and maintenance in a busy workplace is in part to respond to the possibility that the condition of the workplace environment might, with heavy use, change or deteriorate over time, thereby giving rise to a risk of injury,” he said.

The customer service representative sued Goodyear after sustaining severe right shoulder injuries, including full thickness tendon tears, when she tripped over a protruding metal plate on the floor at work in July 2010.

She told the Supreme Court that both Goodyear and the building’s owner, the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC), were negligent in failing to implement a reasonable system for inspecting and maintaining the floor, or to detect and remove the hazardous metal plate before her fall.

The Court found the plate was the redundant mount of a door that was removed when Goodyear refurbished the premises prior to moving in, in 2009, and a screw was missing, allowing it to become raised.

It found a Goodyear OHS coordinator told the worker after the fall that “I knew we should have got that bolt put back in”, which indicated the employer was aware of the risk.

Goodyear argued there was no evidence as to when the screw became loose or the OHS coordinator became aware it was missing, and that the Court couldn’t make a conclusion on whether it should have dealt with the risk before the incident.

But Justice Keogh said a sign or other barrier could have been placed over the plate as soon as the OHS coordinator became aware the screw was missing.

He rejected the employer’s argument that it was clear that the probability of tripping on the metal plate was low because it was in a high-traffic area that hundreds of employees had crossed without incident or difficulty.

“Once the plate became loose, it created a significant hazard for employees traversing the corridor, likely to be busily going about daily tasks without the expectation of such a hazard existing in the central corridor at the premises,” Justice Keogh said.

“An employer acting reasonably would have responded to the risk of injury associated with the floor plate by removing that redundant item when the double doors were removed or at some other time prior to [the worker’s] fall… Goodyear was negligent in failing to remove the metal plate, and that negligence was a cause of [her] fall and injury.”

Owner not contributorily negligent

Justice Keogh found the VACC didn’t breach its duty of care to the worker because Goodyear: removed the doors during its refurbishment and left the plate in place; had exclusive possession of the premises; and had control of it and the system for repairing the floor.

Goodyear never complained to the building caretaker about the metal plate, and the caretaker and the VACC weren’t aware that Goodyear didn’t have an inspection and maintenance system for the floor, he said.

“I conclude that it was negligent of Goodyear to adopt as a system the reactive repair of faults in the floor after they became obvious, and not to implement a complementary proactive system of inspection and maintenance of the floor.”

He awarded the worker $688,000 in past and future loss of earnings, and other damages.

Article obtained from www.ohsalert.com.au