In Roberts v Return to Work South Australia (2017), the South Australian Employment Tribunal awarded a former truck driver $17,351 to compensate for an injury he sustained at home, after his employment had been terminated.
He successfully argued that it was caused in part by two previous injuries he sustained in the course of his employment.
In the first incident, the worker slipped, fell and struck his head and lost consciousness when he was attempting to connect air brake lines on a prime mover’s fuel tank.
In the second incident, the worker was rear-ended while driving a company car. The impact of the crash forced his head into the door pillar, causing him to black out.
The worker returned to work on light duties for about six months before his employment was terminated.
These injuries had long-term consequences, causing the worker to suffer regular dizzy spells and impaired balance.
A month after the worker’s employment ended, he suffered from a dizzy spell while in his home. In an attempt to sit down and regain his balance, he fell and hit the left side of his head and left ear on the side of a thick wooden kitchen table. The accident caused total deafness in the worker’s left ear.
Return To Work SA denied liability on the grounds that the injury lacked the degree of causal significance required under the Return to Work Act 2014.
In the appeal hearing, the South Australian Employment Tribunal rejected the argument put forth by Return To Work SA. It found that the two former injuries sustained by the worker in the course of his employment were a significant contributing cause of the third injury he sustained.
Accordingly, the Tribunal found that the worker’s third injury qualified as a work injury.
This case highlights the importance of having procedures in place to minimise risks of injury in the workplace from the outset.
If the employer had such procedures in place for its workers who are required to connect air brake lines on its trucks, the worker’s first injury may have wholly been avoided.
If so, the physical impact that the second accident had on the worker – that is, exacerbating his dizzy spells and impaired balance sustained from the first injury – may have been lessened and, ultimately, the third injury may have been avoided.