A Qantas office worker who sustained permanent injuries when he tried to move stacked boxes underneath his desk has been awarded nearly $1,175,000 in damages for past and future loss of earnings.
The employee was directed by his supervisor to look for some documents. When he couldn’t find them in the archive room or filing cabinet, he then checked boxes that were stacked underneath his desk.
As the boxes were jammed so tightly, to remove them, he had to sit down on his seat and lean forward to pull them out.
While doing this, one of the boxes fell on his arm and pulled it down, causing a jarring sensation in his arm and immediate pain in his back.
He suffered injuries to his back, neck, right arm and right leg, and had to undergo several surgeries after the incident.
Continually in pain
The continuous pain the employee suffered rendered him unable to carry out his work duties and in November 2008, about 17 months after the accident, Qantas terminated his employment.
Since then the former employee has been unable to work.
Qantas contested in the court hearing that “the boxes under the [worker’s] desk were not needed for the day-to-day operations” and that he was “the master of his own misfortune”.
It also argued that as the worker had years of experience, he was “well-versed in OH&S” and the company was “entitled to rely on [him] performing his allotted tasks in a sensible manner”.
However, the judge found that the boxes jammed underneath the desk presented a foreseeable risk that the employer should have taken steps to guard against.
The judge stated that the company “was negligent in not taking reasonable care for the safety of employees and for not foreseeing the risk of harm that actually came home in this event.”
“There is no evidence … to suggest that the [worker] was ever trained in manual handling, and the risk could have been eliminated simply and cheaply by not allowing the boxes to be stacked under the desk, directing employees that archived documents ought be stored in the archive cabinet or archive room, and training staff the safe way to manually handle documents and boxes.
“None of these steps were taken and I find that the [worker] has established negligence on behalf of the defendant.”
The employee was awarded $1,174,975 in damages.