Court confirms that heavy lifting without appropriate training is the pits while holding the plaintiff contributorily negligent by failing to use appropriate lifting techniques

27 November 2020

The District Court of South Australia found that even though the Plaintiff failed to disclose that he was receiving compensation for prior back injuries on his employment application, the employer nevertheless failed to provide a safe system of work.

In issue

  • Whether the Defendant was negligent by failing to provide adequate training, supervision and instruction to the worker
  • Whether the incapacity of the worker was caused by a pre-existing injury
  • Extent of the Plaintiff’s contributory negligence for failing to adhere to basic lifting techniques

The background

The Plaintiff was engaged to undertake pit and pipe installation work for the Defendant, under a labour hire contract with the Plaintiff’s employer. On 13 March 2013, the Plaintiff picked up a ‘P9 pit’ with two other workers. The Plaintiff claimed he suffered an injury to his lower back while lifting the pit.

The Plaintiff had sustained injuries to his lower back during the course of his previous employment in 2009, 2011 and on 7 January 2013. At the time of the Plaintiff’s application with the labour hire employer, he was receiving workers' compensation benefits and was certified unfit for work as a result of his most recent injury.

The Plaintiff claimed that the Defendant was negligent in failing to provide adequate training and instruction on how to lift the heavy pits. The Defendant argued that the Plaintiff’s incapacity was solely caused by his own negligence by lifting the pit inappropriately and failing to disclose his history of back injuries, or alternatively that the Defendant’s injury was caused by his pre-existing condition.

The decision

The District Court of South Australia found that the Defendant knew or ought reasonably to have known that there was a foreseeable risk of injury in the event that P9 pits were handled incorrectly and such risk was not insignificant.

The Court found that even though the Defendant was not aware of the Plaintiff’s history of back injuries the Defendant’s system of work was unsafe having regard to the level of training, assistance and supervision provided to the Plaintiff.

The Court assessed the Plaintiff’s contributory negligence at 40% for his failure to adhere to basic lifting techniques when lifting the pit while knowing his history of back injuries.

Implications for you

Workers of strenuous manual tasks are susceptible to injury especially where they are lifting heavy materials. This decision is a reminder that employers of such tasks should implement comprehensive training during an induction before they undertake any work even where the risks may seem obvious and the workers are experienced.

Sloan V Service Stream Limited [2020] SADC 98 (28 July 2020)

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