According to a recent article in the Health & Safety Review the Court of Appeal has delivered a judgment overturning an earlier High Court decision of employer liability and the award of €67,000 to an injured checkout operator.
The High Court View
The High Court had ruled that the employer failed to provide a safe system of work on the day of the accident, in that there was nobody the checkout operator could call on for assistance to carry out the customer’s request to replace the 10kg bag from the fruit and vegetable section. The High Court also ruled the operator had not received adequate training to enable her to lift a 10kg bag of potatoes from a pallet not much above floor level and where the bag was wedged between other bags.
The Court of Appeal View
The three Judge Court of Appeal found however that the employee had received sufficient manual handling training and also that the checkout operator themselves had in fact caused the injury by carrying out a manual handling task contrary to the employer’s standard system of work. Under the system of work the checkout staff were required to call using a tannoy system if they required help with the manual handling of heavy objects. It was said that the checkout operator had chosen not to follow this system of work.
Turning to the issue of the adequacy of the training, the Court noted that the checkout operator agreed she had been trained, albeit using an empty cardboard box. The Court ruled therefore that the checkout operator knew the correct technique for lifting loads and she had also been instructed on how to assess the size and weight of any load. Expanding on the use of the empty cardboard box, the Court noted that, in either under common law or statutory duties, its use could not be said to be a failure by the employer. The employer’s duty was to identify the hazards and then to implement procedures to protect the employees from the associated risks.
Setting out the legal principles applicable, the Court noted the duty owed by an employer is met once the employer takes all reasonable and practicable steps to avoid accidental injury. The Court also noted that the employer’s duty under section 8.1 of the SHWW Act 2005 was to ensure, in so far as reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare of employees.
Expressing sympathy with the injured checkout operator, the court upheld the employer’s appeal and dismissed the claim. The issue of the level of damages awarded was not addressed. (Martin v Dunnes Stores (Dundalk); Court of Appeal, March 2016)
This view would appear to reinforce the value of providing manual handling training and putting in place safe systems of work – thereby taking all reasonable and practicable steps an employer can defend a civil claim. Many employers would have been of the view that defending civil claims in manual handling cases is very challenging and problematic.
CMSE Training provide both public and private manual handling training courses nationwide. Our instructors are experts in safe handling and lifting practices. For more information please visit http://www.cmse.ie/training/health-and-safety-courses/accredited-courses/manual-handling-courses/