The claimant is an enforcement officer working for a Borough Council. He has to wear body armour at work to protect him from stabbing attacks.
He generally worked shifts of four days at a time, each lasting just over 11 hours. He had to wear body armour at all times when he was on duty outside. He had to perform tasks such as driving, sitting in a car or walking the streets and regularly spent long periods of time in his vehicle.
The armour had been bought in second hand from a local police force. The claimant’s evidence was that his was not a good fit and he had not been measured up for it. After a while wearing it without particular problems, he felt it pulled him to the left for which he had to compensate by pulling himself back.
In around September 2006 he developed back/shoulder pain and reported this to his supervisor. Other officers also complained about similar symptoms.
The body armour provided to the claimant had two different plates in it, one at the front and one at the back. One plate had previously been issued to a police officer named “Stewart” and referred to size 6D and the other to a different police officer and referred to size 4E.
There was no evidence as to what these sizes meant due to the liquidation of the manufacturer. Northumbria Police were unable to assist.
Liability was denied by the council. Enforcement officers have to wear body armour while on duty to protect their life and it was suitable for purpose, being ex police stock. They said the body armour was adjustable with Velcro straps to suit the individual, the 3.2kg weight of the armour was not excessive and should have dispersed evenly over the torso.
The Judge found the claimant had not been measured up properly prior to having to wear the body armour. All the defendants had done was ask for his chest size and he was asked to try it on to see if he thought it fit.
The judge said that there was no detailed or even approaching professional measuring taken by the defendants to ensure the body armour would sit correctly.
She found the defendants in breach of Regulations 4(3) (a-c) Personal Protective Equipment Regs as the body armour was not suitable for the purpose for which it was used; Regulation 6 in failing to ensure any suitable risk assessment was carried out to determine whether the body armour was in fact suitable and breach of Regulation 9 by failing to provide any instruction or training in the use of the body armour and how to limit the risk of injury when wearing it.
The judge profoundly disagreed with the defendant’s argument that the Claimant could not succeed if there was no proven complaint before injury.
In her summing up, the Judge said that another senior manager gave evidence that was “wholly unacceptable”. While his oral evidence was that he had carried out very detailed investigations into how he had assessed the suitability of the body armour and the ergonomic requirements of use when walking, sitting, driving etc, there wasn’t a scrap of documentary evidence to back this up.
She did not find him a credible witness. She also said that he ignored the relevant PPE Regs and had not undertaken any risk assessment. He also failed to supervise or provide any written criteria as to what would count as an appropriate fit and there was a “manifest breach of the regulations”.
Judgement for the Claimant.
22nd January 2010, Middlesbrough CC