Documented systems of work and risk assessments – not the be all, and end all29 May 2020 Authored by: Damian Hinkley | Topics: Insurance, Workers’ compensation
Allegations that an employer failed to undertake a risk assessment and prepare a documented system of work are a feature of most common law work claims. However, Healy v Logan City Council  QDC 54 demonstrates that, to win their claim, the worker must show that a documented system would have prevented the injury.
On 9 June 2013, Ms Healy sustained injuries while employed by Logan City Council as a casual cleaner at the Logan Metro Indoor Sports Centre.
Ms Healy’s case
Ms Healy alleged that she was cleaning the footwells in the rows between seats with a squeegee while standing on (and walking across) the rows of seats.
She alleged that the Council instructed or allowed her to clean using that method. She called a former co-worker to give evidence supporting her claim.
The Council’s case
The Council called three witnesses: (i) a supervisor who witnessed the incident; (ii) a senior cleaner who completed Ms Healy’s on-the-job training and (iii) an administrator who provided Ms Healy’s site induction.
Ms Healy’s supervisor gave evidence that she had not been walking along the seats to clean as alleged. Instead, he said she was climbing down from one row of seats to another, by stepping over the seats, and tripped in the process.
Collectively, the Council’s evidence was that:
- Ms Healy’s on-the-job training included a specific warning that the seats were slippery as well as a specific instruction not to stand on seats
- Ms Healy had never previously been seen cleaning using the alleged method (or standing on seats at all) and, if she had been seen, she would have been told to cease.
Findings of fact
Judge Sheridan found Ms Healy was an unreliable witness with a tendency to exaggerate. Her Honour commented that ‘Ms Healy was doing her best to paint the Council in a bad light’ and highlighted:
- Ms Healy gave inconsistent evidence between examination in chief and cross-examination – i.e. she initially suggested she devised the alleged cleaning method but in cross-examination suggested her trainer told her to follow that method
- Ms Healy made various allegations about the Council requiring workers to ‘rush’ and the Council failing to assist her after her fall, which were illogical and inconsistent with the preponderance of evidence.
Her Honour also rejected the evidence of Ms Healy’s co-worker.
Judge Sheridan therefore rejected Ms Healy’s version of events. Her Honour noted such system was obviously risky given the seats were known to be slippery and ‘it was hardly credible that anyone would have advised another worker to stand on seats in order to clean the stands’.
Judge Sheridan found for the Council.
On the basis of the Council’s evidence (which she preferred), her Honour concluded that the Council had taken adequate precautions by:
- providing on-the-job training, which included a warning that the seats were slippery and an instruction not to stand on seats
- ensuring adequate supervision
- taking reasonable steps to encourage patrons to dispose of rubbish appropriately.
Her Honour noted that:
- additional training was not required, given the existing training was ‘sufficient and reasonable’ and ‘the critical messages in training would [not] have been better delivered in written form’
- it was impractical to place bins or containers in the small grandstands
- no formal risk assessment or documented system of work would have made any difference.
There is no doubt that documentation, such as risk assessments and safe work procedures, are a crucial tool for employers attempting to defend claims and good practice generally. However, this case serves as a reminder that documents are not the ‘be all, and end all’ in personal injury claims.
The absence of risk assessments cause problems for employers where an injured worker can prove that, had one been undertaken, it would have resulted in an employer taking different or extra precautions. Similarly, the absence of documented work procedures is problematic for employers where, if prepared, the incident would have been avoided. Here, Ms Healy failed to prove those matters – although there is no doubt that the Court’s adverse findings about her credibility played a large role!