A worker at a Millers clothing store has been awarded nearly $235,000 in damages after she suffered shoulder and arm injuries when she fell from a stepladder.
The employee had used a two-stepped A-frame ladder to retrieve a mannequin from a high display shelf.
While stepping down from the ladder, she was unable to use the handhold as she had to grasp the mannequin with both hands.
As she was descending, the shop telephone rang, and the worker became momentarily distracted. She then lost her balance and fell backwards to the floor.
This narrow stepladder was regularly used by staff to access mannequins that were positioned out of reach. Also, it was an expectation of the employer that staff answered the telephone promptly, even if there was only one person in the store.
At the hearing, the worker claimed that her employer was negligent in that it had:
- Failed to devise and implement a safe system of work.
- Failed to provide proper equipment to carry out the task.
- Failed to provide a ladder suitable for the task as the ladder was too small.
- Failed to provide a means of getting clothing from the mannequins that did not require climbing up to the shelf.
- Failed to provide adequate manual assistance.
- Failed to supervise the task to ensure it was carried out without injury.
- Failed to exercise due and proper care of her safety.
- Failed to comply with the Work Health & Safety Act.
- Failed to undertake an adequate risk assessment to identify hazards and apply effective control strategies.
- Failed to implement a policy ensuring that a second worker be present when the stepladder is used.
- Failed to instruct the employee to ignore calls while serving customers.
- Failed to instruct staff about a safe method to remove clothing from mannequins on the overhead shelf.
Specialty Fashion Group, owners of the Millers chain of stores, in its defence alleged that the onus of responsibility was on the employee and that she had been contributorily negligent.
The Judge rejected this and stated that the worker “was adhering to the system of work that had been devised for her by her employer … This was an accident waiting to happen.”
He said the “danger … could have been readily addressed … [with] an easily and inexpensively modified work system”.
The Judge ordered the employer to pay the worker $234,942 in damages, plus her legal costs.