How can employees prove employer negligence with workplace injuries?

A district court of Queensland recently dealt with a negligence claim of a worker who said he suffered an injury because the employer did not properly instruct him about the dangers of his job.

The employer owned a hobby farm comprising approximately 160 acres at Rosedale.

On the day of his accident, the worker was spraying stumps of regrowth, which the employer had cut with a spinning brush cutter. He was following his trail and assisting him in spraying herbicides to treat noxious regrowth on the property when he fell on a rock and broke his right leg. He claims to have suffered permanent injuries to his right leg because of the fall.

Before the incident, the worker had worked heavy outdoor jobs. These included working in a sawmill and doing fencing work and forestry and pastoral management type work. It would sometimes involve him camping in the bush for months on end.

His doctors all agreed that his work was “very physical” before his fall and involved him navigating rough and uneven terrain. They said that “because of his leg injury, he [could] no longer perform such work, limiting him to light to moderate duties,” although he could “continue working in caretaker roles indefinitely.”

In September 2021, he sued the employer for damages and other orders, alleging that the latter failed “to put in place a system of work” and “provide instructions, training and supervision to him.”

Generally, liability in tort depends upon proof of fault through the negligent infliction of harm. Case law has emphasised that it “does not depend on the prevention of injury.”

The employer was not required to guard against all risks of injury or to safeguard the worker “completely from all perils.” Rather, the employer’s duty “was to take reasonable care to avoid exposing the worker to unnecessary risks of injury.”

For the worker to demonstrate the employer’s negligence, he is required to establish the following:

(i) The task involved a foreseeable risk;

(ii) His belonged to the class of injury to which the risk exposed him;

(iii) There were reasonably practical means of preventing the risk;

(iv) The employer’s failure to eliminate the risk showed a want of reasonable care for the worker’s safety.

“For his claims to succeed, he must show that the employer unreasonably failed to take measures reasonably open in the circumstances which would have protected him from the dangers of his task, without unduly impeding its accomplishment,” the court said.

The worker argued that he “should have been warned” that he might be injured if he came too close to the operating spinning blade. He said the employer “created the risk by failing to adopt a safe system of work.” However, the court noted that the worker did not suggest the “system of work” that he found adequate to protect him from risks.

“It is true that a system of work, where there would be greater distance between the worker and the property-owner, might have decreased the risk that the plaintiff waiting behind to spray the cut stumps would suffer injury,” the court said.

“But the problem, of course, is that the totality of the evidence is that such a system would have unduly impeded the worker in effectively performing the spraying work,” it added.

Simply put, the court said there were no reasonable protections that the employer could put up without preventing the worker from accomplishing his job.

Thus, it said it was “not persuaded that the employer was negligent in failing to implement a system and provide training, instructions or supervision,” which the worker demanded in his claims.

Ultimately, the court decided in favour of the employer.

Source: HRD

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