by Angela Szczepanski and Troy Wild, NRA Legal
The ACT Supreme Court has ordered Coles to pay a former staff member over $1 million after she fell from a safety step she says she wasn’t trained to use.
Nicole Harris suffered injuries to her right hip, right ankle, right knee and right shoulder when she fell from a step after straightening shelves in the Tuggeranong store.
Ms Harris told the court she had no training in using the step, though lawyers representing Coles argued the safety step was used by supermarkets across Australia, and was a piece of equipment that didn’t need training to be able to use. They also argued there was a failure by Ms Harris to take care for her own safety and disputes any ongoing incapacity or disability she may have.
Justice Linda Ashford did not support Coles’s version of events.
“It seems to me from the evidence there was a large volume of material given to new employees at induction. Some was relevant to the job to be performed and some was probably peripheral or even irrelevant. Neither the plaintiff nor [a co-worker] had much recollection of what happened at the induction. Various items were initialled, although it seems clear the plaintiff had little comprehension of what many of the tasks involved.”
Justice Ashford said calling it a safety step “does not make it so”.
“At first blush, this seems a straightforward item in common use, yet the defendant’s spreadsheet indicates 47 per cent of accidents using the step occurred in getting down from the step. The method of classification of injuries is cursory. However, it was thought necessary to do a risk assessment, as I have previously noted. As I have also previously noted, recommendations were made, including supervision and training in the use of the step. There is nothing in the evidence which would suggest to me that there was ever any supervision of the plaintiff and her use of the step, such as telling her not to step off sideways or to always step off backwards.”
Justice Ashford continued: “This is not an exercise in hindsight. This is not a dangerous step, per se, but this was an accident the defendant, as an employer, should have and could have avoided by proper supervision and training of the plaintiff and other employees.”
In her judgment, Justice Ashford found Coles was liable for the accident and awarded the employee $1,088,468.53 in compensation, with $570,229 to cover past and future economic loss, $222,200 in general damages and $236,039 for past and future medical expenses.
This case illustrates the importance of comprehensive and documented workplace training programs, and how rulings can go beyond what some would call ‘common sense’ use of basic equipment. Contact the NRA Legal team to check how robust your WH&S program really is. Call 1800 RETAIL (1800 738 245) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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