In a very common sense finding, a court has found an employer didn’t breach its duty of care to a worker, in failing to instruct her on how to safely use a stepladder, because using the stepladder was a “relatively straightforward” task.

I can hear you all breathing a sigh of relief already, in upholding an earlier decision denying the worker injury damages, the ACT Supreme Court found that while a storage system that didn’t require a ladder would have been safer, it wasn’t unreasonable for the employer to use the system it had.

The Gungahlin Veterinary Services Pty Ltd worker sued her employer for damages after she was injured falling off a three-step ladder while putting blankets on a high shelf in the vet hospital laundry, in April 2012. She claimed the ladder was old and unstable, and had tape wrapped around one leg. She claimed its poor condition caused her fall, and the employer was negligent in failing to carry out a risk assessment or instruct her on how to safely use the ladder.

In September last year, ACT Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker dismissed the claim after finding the stepladder wasn’t faulty, and that on the balance of probabilities the worker overreached while placing the blankets on the shelf instead of moving the ladder. She agreed with the worker that a storage system that didn’t require the use of a ladder would have been safer, but found it was “entirely unreasonable that any employer should be required to totally eliminate all storage options above ground-based reach”.

Even on appeal the Supreme Court found that everything was above board and upheld the finding, ordering the employee to pay court costs for the vet clinic.

The takeaway from this finding is that you don’t need to train people in how to complete tasks that would reasonably be deemed ‘relatively straightforward’ in nature such as using a step ladder. It’s important to also note that the magistrate found that although it would have been better to remove the need for the stepladder, it was also reasonable  to require the use of the stepladder. In real terms this means that removing all high storage points in a vet clinic is neither reasonable or practical even though it would be great in the ideal world.

So rest easy, there is still sanity in the system and common sense outcomes for businesses.

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