Employers are on frost alert, following the news that a home care worker has won her claim for damages after slipping on ice and breaking her wrist when visiting a client.
The ruling by the Supreme Court means that employers who expect staff to work outside in icy conditions will have to review risk management processes and consider whether they need to provide special equipment.
Tracey Kennedy was visiting the house of an elderly client in December 2010 when she fell and injured her wrist, after slipping on a path covered with snow and ice. At the time she was wearing a pair of flat, ridged sole boots, and later sued her employer for damages for breach of duty, claiming they should have provided her with crampon style attachments to provide the necessary extra grip in the icy conditions.
The Supreme Court said that her employers had not carried out suitable and sufficientrisk assessments to meet health and safety at work regulations, despite having received previous reports of similar incidents and knowing there were icy conditions at the time, as the freezing weather had persisted for weeks.
Because the anti-slip attachments were relatively low-cost, easily available and had been used effectively by other employers to reduce risk, the judges ruled that the failure to provide the crampons had caused, or materially contributed, to the accident.
Said Jane Crosby, employment expert with Guildford solicitors Hart Brown: “This case has been through a number of appeals, finally arriving in the Supreme Court, and some may think the ruling seems overly paternalistic, but the Supreme Court made a distinction between an ordinary member of the public who could choose whether to go out and what route to use, and an employee who had no choice but to go out in bad weather and walk on untreated footpaths as part of their employment.”
She added: “It’s likely that trade unions will be arguing for provision of shoe attachments for use in icy conditions, if employers want to avoid liability claims where employees are injured after falling in ice or snow.
“And of course, the bigger picture isn’t just about slipping in bad weather, it’s why employers have to provide life jackets where employees are working on water, or safety harnesses if they’re working at heights. What’s important is making sure that risk assessments are made regularly, with feedback or new knowledge factored in, and any appropriate protective or safety equipment put in place.“
The case hinged on a breach of Regulation 3 of the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999, failure to carry out suitable risk assessments, and Regulations 4 and 10 of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, requiring employers to provide suitable equipment to their employees to avoid risks to their healthand safety, and ensure the equipment is properly used.
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.