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Health and Safety – Judges Do Not Set Impossibly High Standards

Employers and occupiers of premises owe strict legal duties to protect the health and safety of their staff and visitors. However, as one High Court case showed, judges are not in the business of setting impossibly high standards and recognise that accidents can happen without anyone being at fault.

The case concerned a careers adviser who attended a community centre in order to give a talk to young people as part of the Prince’s Trust programme. She had only just entered the building when she tripped and fell down a 7-inch step, suffering life-changing injuries that left her in chronic pain. She sued her employer, a charity, and the centre’s occupier for six-figure compensation.

In dismissing her claim, however, a judge found that neither had been negligent or breached their duties under health and safety legislation. The step, which was marked with hazard tape, was adequately lit, and the woman had candidly admitted that she was looking straight ahead and not at where her feet were going.

She had failed to see the unremarkable step, although it was in plain sight, and the judge noted that accidents sometimes happen despite sensible measures having been taken to minimise risks. Expressing sympathy for the woman, the judge ruled that, most unfortunately for her, this was just such an accident.

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