The Health and Safety Executive reports that nearly 11,000 workers suffered serious injury as a result of a slip or trip in the last year. A recent case in the Scottish Court of Session examined the extent of an employer’s liability after an employee slipped and was injured as a result of ice in the workplace car park (Munro v Aberdeen City Council).
Ms Munro based her claim on Regulation 5(1) of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which provides that the workplace ‘shall be maintained (including cleaned as appropriate) in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair’. It was accepted that the duty imposed by Regulation 5(1) is strict. Were it to apply in this case, Ms Munro would be entitled to compensation without having to prove negligence on the part of the Council and there would be no ‘reasonable practicability’ defence open to her employer.
Aberdeen City Council argued that Regulation 5(1) did not apply but that Regulation 12(3) was relevant in this case. This provides that, ‘so far as is reasonably practicable, every floor in a workplace and the surface of every traffic route in a workplace shall be kept free from obstructions and from any article or substance which may cause a person to slip, trip or fall’.
Ms Munro lost her case. The Court of Session drew a distinction between absolute duties for longer-term dangers and qualified duties for more transient hazards and in so doing found itself in agreement with the reasoning of Lord Emslie in McEwan v Lothian Buses, which was that if the absolute duty presented under Regulation 5 were to be given a wholly unrestricted meaning, then many of the other Regulations would become ‘otiose’ and the ‘qualification of reasonable practicability in particular defined situations (for example under Regulation 12(3)) might as well not be there at all’.
Says <<CONTACT DETAILS>>, “Whilst employers will be relieved to know that the law recognises it is not always reasonably practicable to eliminate transient risks, it is advisable to identify any areas of the premises that are likely to be affected by ice and assess the risks to employees and to members of the public. Have in place a procedure to prevent ice from forming whenever freezing temperatures are forecast.”