Even the smallest safety oversight can be disastrous.
The butchers at an IGA store in New South Wales probably never thought that failing to spot a tiny slither of sausage mince hidden under a trolley in the meat room could lead to a $600,000 liability claim.
In Paul v Ashcroft Supa IGA Orange Pty Ltd (2019) a worker sued the supermarket for breaching its duty of care in a 2012 incident when he was working there as an apprentice butcher.
He was directed to link sausages on a tray on top of a wheeled trolley, before it rolled away from him.
When he stepped to follow the trolley to try and prevent the sausages from falling on the floor, he slipped on a piece of flattened mince and fell backwards hitting a wall, injuring his back.
The worker submitted that the employer was liable for the accident as it had failed to:
- Ensure that the trolley holding the tray of encased sausage meat was provided with a braking or locking mechanism.
- Ensure the floor was free of wet and slippery substances.
- Ensure that the floor was regularly inspected and cleaned.
- Ensure that the trolley holding the tray was not placed on a sloping area of floor.
- Provide a sufficiently high level of supervision in view of the plaintiff being a first year apprentice.
- Provide sufficient fixed work benches to ensure that no preparation work was undertaken using a wheeled trolley.
- Identify the hazards and risk of injury to which the plaintiff was exposed.
The employer argued that the worker was 25% contributorily negligent as he had failed to look under the trolley before undertaking the task.
NSW District Court Judge David Russell rejected this, finding that the worker was only 10% contributorily negligent.
The worker explained in the hearing that he saw mince on the floor when he started his shift, but said one of the butchers cleaned the floor before he started linking the sausages.
As he was an apprentice, he didn’t think that he was expected to check the work of the butcher and trusted that the area had been cleaned up properly.
While Judge Russell did find that the employer wasn’t liable for the wheeled trolley not having a locking or braking mechanism, as there was no regulation or practice in the industry to use these, he said “The same cannot be said for the presence of slippery sausage mince on the floor underneath the trolley”.
“Since the trolley was freely mobile, there was a need to clean underneath the trolley as well as the rest of the meat room floor. [The employer] through its employees failed to do that properly
“[T]here was a piece of sausage mince on the floor for three and a half hours which had not been removed, and it should have been removed. There was … a common sense obligation on the part of [the employer] to take proper steps to clean slippery things off the floor,” he said.
The employer was ordered to pay the worker $578,689.11 in damages, plus his legal costs.