Employee loses personal injury claim – did not take reasonable care
In the case of Edward O’Connor vs Wexford County Council, the employee took a personal injury claim under the Safety, Health and Welfare Act against their employer. Mr O’Connor was a water inspector and one of his tasks was to check the water levels of the reservoir on a daily basis. This involved lifting up a manhole in a grassy area. On 6 February 2011, Mr O’Connor claimed that he slipped down a steep grassy bank and injured his back after he completed the daily check. The grass was wet that day. He claimed that this was an unsafe system of work despite the availability of a safer access route to the manhole which was only 10-15 metres away.
The judge weighed up the evidence from both sides and dismissed the employee’s claim. He concluded that common sense applies in this case as the work involved was not “complex or specialised” and he added that the “plaintiff did not take reasonable care for his own safety by using the steep incline to access the manhole when there was a flat route a modest distance away”.
Whilst employers are expected to provide a safe working environment under the Safety, Health and Welfare Act, the Act also details a list of requirements that the employee should undertake in ensuring they take reasonable care within the workplace. These are that the employee must:
- Comply and co-operate with their employer with all relevant statutory provisions under the Safety, Health and Welfare Act
- Take reasonable care to protect their own safety and that of others who might be affected by their acts and omissions
- Ensure they are not under the influence of an intoxicant or in such a state that they might be a danger to themselves or others. In addition, submit to reasonable, appropriate testing if reasonably required by the employer. This must be carried out under the supervision of a registered medical practitioner. The employer may prevent an employee from working if it is apparent that the employee could be a danger to themselves or others. We recommend that two people in the business witness and assess if this is the case.
- Not engage in any improper conduct or dangerous behaviour
- Attend training and undergo such assessment as may be necessary
- Make correct use of any article or substance provided for use for the protection of the employee, including the use or wearing of protective clothing and equipment
- Report to his or her employer as soon as practicable if any work being carried out might endanger themselves or others
- Report any defects in the workplace including any articles or substance that might endanger themselves or others
- Report any contravention of the relevant health and safety statutory provisions that they are aware of
- Notify the employer or the employer’s nominated registered practitioner if they become aware that they are suffering from any disease or physical or mental impairment which affects their performance of work activities that could give rise to risks to the safety, health and welfare of persons at work
In addition, under the Act, the employee cannot:
- Misrepresent themselves to an employer in relation to their level of training
- Interfere, misuse or damage anything provided for the safety, health and welfare of employees
- Place at risk the safety, health and welfare of persons in connection with work activities
The SFA website has a dedicated section on health and safety which you can view here or if you have a specific health and safety issue that you would like to discuss please contact Helen Quinn on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01 605 1668.