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The Queensland Supreme Court has awarded more than $300K in damages to a worker who slipped on a step and injured his knee, after finding his employer had failed to adequately minimise the risk of injury to persons entering the workplace.
"I am satisfied to the requisite degree that the metal strip [on the step] constituted a slipping hazard," Justice Duncan McKeekin said, in ruling BP Australia Pty Ltd had breached s28(3) (ensuring other persons are not exposed to risk) and s30(1) (ensuring safe access to and from the workplace) of the Queensland Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995. "The risk was more than trivial. It was foreseeable."
In November 2004 the fuel tanker driver attended the Queensland BP fuel terminal to fill trailers with distillate fuel.
As part of his duties he was required to step up from a concrete apron onto the entry platform to the bay loader. As he did so his foot slipped from a metal strip attached to the step and he fell, injuring his knee.
In the Supreme Court, Justice McKeekin heard that the worker considered the metal strip a significant safety hazard, and that he had slipped on it many times over a period of 10 years prior to the incident.
The employer contended that there was no evidence of this. The worker, it said, had not reported the defect in the 10-year period before he suffered his work injury (even though he had been instructed on numerous occasions on the method of reporting hazards), and no other worker had ever been similarly injured.
Justice McKeekin, however, found that the worker's failure to report hazards in the past "was coloured very much by his perception of when that responsibility arose".
"It was clear from his evidence that he thought the responsibility was triggered if he was hurt," he said, noting that the worker had filed a defect report after the workplace accident. "Thus the fact that he did not file a report [before the incident] does not mean that his evidence about prior incidents of slipping is not truthful... The claim that a shiny metal surface is slippery is hardly inherently improbable.
"Further, the concrete apron from which the tanker drivers were required to step on to the metal strip... was very likely to have contaminants upon it including diesel which is notoriously slippery. There was good reason to eliminate slipping hazards."
In addition, Justice McKeekin found that the employer had placed non-stick tape over the metal strip subsequent to the worker's defect report, effectively conceding the danger of the strip.
"[The employer] accepted the criticism in the defect report supplied by the [worker] as legitimate and thought it appropriate to take action," he said.
Justice McKeekin also rejected the employer's contention that the incident made only a small contribution to the present-day condition of the worker's knee (which it claimed was in a "generalised state of demise"), due to lack of evidence.
"There is no reason to think that [the worker] would have been in anything like a serious position as he finds himself but for the fall," he said.
In awarding the worker $306,565 in damages, Justice McKeekin took into account the worker's past and future economic loss, pain and suffering and ongoing treatment costs.