Hazards in schools

i) Ms McKay reached into a cupboard for a pencil sharpener and a fan fell out and injured her. The school said she had reached around on a high shelf and dislodged the fan. Ms McKay also had poor eyesight.

The Judge accepted the claimant’s evidence that she knew from experience that the sharpener was on the bottom shelf – it was her job to get stationery – and she had done the job regularly before. The fan heater had negligently been placed on movable soft fabric and it was possible that over several openings of the cupboard it had vibrated to the edge of its shelf.

Judgement for the claimant with indemnity costs as Part 36 offer beaten. No contributory negligence.

McKay -v- Avigdor Primary School, 13 January 2005, DJ Sheratte, Ilford CC.

ii) A pair of heavy swing doors had been reported as dangerous weeks before the accident due to their tendency to swing back rapidly. Ms Parkes was holding one door open by its edge (they had no handles) when a pupil rushed through from the other side and the other door swung back before she had a chance to remove her hand.

The doors were subsequently pinned back at all times. The school said the accident was exceptional and unforeseeable.

Held: There was a breach of Reg 18 (1) Workplace Regs 1992 in failing to provide suitable doors and safety mechanisms for their use and this had caused the injury. No contrib.

Parkes -v- Surrey CC, 27 January 2005, Central London CC.

London Underground

The claimant ruptured the tendon in his left little finger while tying up collector shoes on a locomotive using a webbed canvas tie strap. This was the first and only time he had carried out this task. Our claim was that this was a manual handling procedure for which our client had received no training. The other side alleged that this was an extremely simple task which did not require training. The claimant was an experienced engineer and should have known what to do.

The claimant’s Health and Safety representative, Martin White, gave very helpful evidence, which confirmed that the system of training at London Underground was extremely ad hoc and that most train maintainers learn how to do the jobs as they arise without any formal training or supervision.

A webbed strap was also used to demonstrate to the Judge how simple the task was. The claimant could not recall how he tied the strap and the Judge couldn’t work it out at all. He carefully watched the claimant attempt to buckle the strap and concluded that he was doing it incorrectly. This exhibit was extremely helpful to the case and helped the Judge make an early decision.

The District Judge held that, on the balance of probabilities, the claimant did not tie the shoe straps up correctly. Because of this, the straps did not support the weight of the shoes and he had to keep pulling the straps tight to elevate the shoe as best he could. He did not agree that this was a simple task, especially as train drivers are given training to carry out this procedure and maintainers are not trained at all. There is no reason why the train drivers should receive training when the train maintainers do not. There is a working reference manual for train drivers and the manual even states: “unless the strap is inserted correctly, it might work loose and allow the shoe to drop…”

Had a sensible risk assessment been carried out, at the very least the maintainers would have been trained to tie the buckles on the strapping safely. There was no contributory negligence.

The other side requested permission to appeal but this was refused.

George McLaren -v- London Underground Ltd, 27 January 2005.