A worker who sustained back injuries and subsequently suffered depression after incorrectly handling 55kg tyres has won almost $270,000 in damages.
Judge Kathleen Glancy of the Western Australian District Court found that Tyres4U Pty Ltd had failed to provide the worker with adequate instructions or supervision when he was directed to lift and stack the heavy tyres, which he had no previous experience in doing.
While trying to pull one tyre on top of another the worker lost his balance and slipped, causing him to bear the whole weight of the tyre and sprain his back.
A litany of alleged failures
In his claim, the worker alleged that Tyres4U had been negligent and/or breached its duty of care to him, claiming it had:
- failed to provide a forklift or other mechanical lifting device to perform the task of lifting the tyres;
- failed to instruct him to use a forklift or other mechanical lifting device to lift the tyres;
- failed to identify and assess the risk associated with manually lifting the tyres;
- failed to instruct him to seek the assistance of his co-worker at all times to manually lift the tyres;
- instructed him to perform an ergonomically unsafe manual handling task;
- failed to warn him of the risk of injury associated with manually handling the tyres without assistance;
- failed to instruct or train him on how to safely engage in manual handling of large tyres; and
- failed to provide him any or adequate supervision whilst performing the task of lifting the tyres.
Should the worker have known better?
Tyres4U denied liability for the worker’s injury and told the court that it had exercised reasonable care and complied with the Western Australian OSH Act.
It claimed that the worker had been instructed how to safely lift and stack the tyres using a “barrel stacking method” to make sure he didn’t take the full weight of the tyre and that it had a “buddy system” in place to ensure new workers were provided with adequate supervision to ensure work was performed correctly.
The company submitted that the worker’s injuries were a result of his own negligence, as he knew, or ought to have known that the manner in which he lifted the tyre was unsafe and he had failed to use a safe lifting technique in accordance with his manual handling training.
Employer couldn’t prove it did what it said
Judge Glancy found that the evidence the employer and its employees provided in the hearing was inconsistent and unreliable, noting that it reflected “what should have happened” rather than what actually did happen on the day of the incident.
She was satisfied that the worker’s injury was caused by the employer’s failure to train him to safely lift and stack the tyres and provide adequate supervision in the course of doing so.
Judge Glancy found that Tyres4U had breached its duty of care and awarded the worker a total of $268,405.20 in damages. She said it wasn’t necessary to establish if Tyres4U had breached the OSH Act or whether “any such breach would have given rise to an entitlement to damages”.