In Sheppard v Qantas Defence Service Pty Ltd (2018), a senior worker, well-trained in health and safety, was awarded more than $1 million in damages for a back injury caused by boxes stored negligently under his desk.
The worker was employed by Qantas Defence Service Pty Ltd as an aircraft engineer. He was asked by his team leader to try to locate some archived documents.
After failing to find the documents in the usual archive area, the worker decided to search through boxes stacked underneath his desk. While pulling one of the boxes out, another fell on his arm causing him to jar his back and injure his neck, arm and leg.
He commenced proceedings in the NSW District Court seeking damages for Qantas’ negligence.
Qantas argued that because of the worker’s extensive workplace health and safety training and experience as a senior employee, it could rely on the worker performing his tasks in a sensible manner. Qantas further contended that the worker was contributorily negligent for failing to reach for the boxes from the floor.
However the judge found Qantas negligently failed to take reasonable care for the safety of its employees.
There was a foreseeable risk of injury stemming from the boxes being stacked under his desk and even though this risk was minimal, it could easily have been remedied or guarded against by stacking the boxes beside the desk or with the archived material.
The judge further found that the worker was not contributorily negligent as his training did not include how to remove boxes stacked under a desk in a safe manner. Regardless, there was no safe manner to remove the boxes other than to dismantle the desk.
Qantas was ordered to pay the worker $1,174,974 compensation for past economic loss and future loss of earning capacity.
This case highlights that it is vital to have an adequate safety system in place.
Without such a safety system, your employees are exposed to risks of injury despite how senior or well-trained in health and safety they may be.
It is also important that employers recognise and address risks before they manifest into injuries.