WCRA: liability for lifting an ice bin, but no future loss of income

McGrory v Medina Property Inc Services Pty Limited [2016] QDC 280

Burnett DCJ

The plaintiff was employed as a room attendant at a hotel where she was injured while attempting to lift a bin containing ice. The plaintiff observed that the bin required replenishment as it was required for the breakfast buffet.

The plaintiff claimed damages for breach of duty while the defendant denied that the incident occurred in the manner described by the plaintiff.

Duty of Care

The plaintiff alleged three duties that the defendant had breached, namely:

  1. Failure to provide a safe place of work by failing to have a bin designed for ease of lifting;
  2. Failure to provide a safe system of work by exposing the plaintiff to the risk of lifting an ice bin with an excess weight load for a reasonable female employee; and
  3. Failure to provide proper training, instruction, supervision and warnings of the dangers of work

Design failure

The plaintiff alleged that the design of the bin, namely the weight of the bin and the absence of adequate handles for lifting, posed a risk to employees. Finding a breach of this duty, Burnett DCJ said:

[27] In my view common sense suggests the risk as obvious.  While the defendant may not have anticipated the subject event it cannot be ignored that there always remained the prospect that some employee would fill the ice bin to capacity and a circumstance might arise in a wet area such as a bar, where the full ice bin would require emptying.

[29] I am satisfied the risk was not insignificant.  It was an accident waiting to happen.  It simply required the confluence of circumstances as occurred here in order to manifest.

[30] [The employer] ought to have appreciated the need to address a risk created by the design and particularly the need to lift a weighty ice bin over a chain and address that lift by training or otherwise providing for another system in the event the ice bin was full.

[31] Any number of practical solutions of minimal or no cost given the nature of the problem are obvious.

Lifting risk

As to the weight of the bin required to be lifted by a female employee, Burnett DCJ said:

[36] Lifting risks are well-recognised.  The risk could have been readily obviated my limiting the ice load contained in the bin.  The risk is one which I am satisfied the defendant ought to have known of.  It was not an insignificant risk.    It was reasonably preventable as Dr McDougall opined by a reduction of the bins size (capacity) to limit a maximum load of 7 kilograms for a female or 13 kilograms for a male.

Training, instruction and supervision

Dealing with the training requirements, His Honour stated:

[38] No instruction was given about any specific risk such as the peculiar situation created by the ice bin. Had there been adequate instruction it is likely no injury would have occurred. Instruction and training themselves would not constitute burdensome requirements.

Quantum

Burnett DCJ assessed damages as follows:

Head of damage Amount
General damages $5,900.00
Special damages $7,650.25
Past economic loss $1,500.00
Interest on past economic loss $86.00
Loss of past superannuation $135.00
Sub-total $15,271.25
Less WorkCover refund -$4,836.77
TOTAL $10,434.48

 

Notably, his Honour found in reliance of Dr Walters that there was no loss of future earning capacity.

David Cormack – Brisbane Barrister & Mediator

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