Workplace Regulation cases: slips and trips

a) Slipping : does Reg 5 apply as well as Reg 12 ?

A care assistant at a nursing home slipped on water in a hallway. It had come from a concealed pipe that had burst shortly before the accident. No-one had been aware of the burst pipe or the water on the floor. The claimant pleaded that the defendant had breached the strict obligation of Regulation 5 to maintain a safe workplace and equipment and the obligation under Regulation 12 (3) to keep the floor free from water as far as was reasonably practicable.

The Court of Appeal held that the Workplace Regulation governed the floor (as part of the premises) but not the pipe. There was nothing wrong with the floor or its maintenance either under Regulation 5 or Regulation 12 and so the claim failed. The defect was in the pipe but that was not covered by the Workplace Regulations nor could it be said that the defect in the pipe had directly caused the injury under Regulation 5.

Lewis -v- Avidan Limited,CA CivDiv 2005, 13 April 2005

b) Tripping : “ Accidents sometimes happen for which no one is to blame “ says Judge

The claimant tripped over the legs of a screen stored at the back of a large conference room. The legs projected 60cms on each side of the screen a few centimetres above the floor. There were screens right across the back of the room which were pushed on castor wheels for various purposes at conferences. The claimant pleaded breaches of Regulations 5 and Regulations 12 (3) of the Workplace Regulations.

The defendant said the screens had been there for 17 years without incident and that the legs were plainly visible and that it was not reasonably practicable to store them anywhere else at all other times, being several large unwieldy screens that were constantly moved around.

The Judge found there could be no breach of Regulation 5 as the screens were clearly in "an efficient state” in the sense that they were in good repair. Dealing with regulation 12 (3), it was not reasonably practicable to remove large screens several times a day elsewhere and it was reasonable to have them at the very back of the conference room.

The similar successful case of Anderson -v- Newham College of Further Education [2002 EWCA CIV 505] could be distinguished as the feet on the white board in question in that case projected on one side only and it had been said in that judgment by Sedley LJ at Para 6:

"Nothing was simpler or therefore more reasonably practicable than to have turned the frame through 180 degrees so as to point its feet to the wall.”

In this case, the legs projected on both sides so that option was not available. The Judge found he could not find a breach of regulation 5 where he found Regulation 12 (3) had been complied with as it could not be the law makers’ intention that once a reasonably practicable obligation had been met that strict liability should be found under the catch-all pleading that the floor was not “in an efficient state”. Nor was there a breach of the Occupiers Liability Act – a warning sign would only have stated the blindingly obvious.

The judgement concluded with the dread words:

"It is a trite observation and perhaps not a very fashionable one nowadays, that sometimes accidents happen in life for which no-one is really to blame”.

Knowles -v- Farnborough College of Technology, Mayors & City of London Court, claim 4MY00058 HHJ Marr – Johnson.

c) Visiting a workplace

The claimant was dumping rubbish at a skip at the defendant’s Civic Amenities Site. His foot went into an unguarded drainage pipe.

The Judge found the Workplace Regulations 1992 (Reg 12) applied even though the claimant was not an employee at the site. He accepted there must be foreseeability of risk rather than strict liability under the regulations. The defendant said the risk was unforeseeable as there had been no accident recorded in 20 years with 180,000 visitors.

The Judge was sceptical about the credibility of this evidence over such a long time and found the presence of a large foot-size hole in a position where people would use the skip and be unlikely to see a hazard when holding waste was a breach of Regulation 12.

No contributory negligence.

Franks -v- Durham County Waste Management Co Ltd, 23 March 2005, Newcastle upon Tyne CC, Cartlidge J