Court of Appeal Confirms Employees Have Obligations for Their Own Safety in the Workplace

Many employers believe that if an accident happens to an employee in the workplace the employer will inevitably be found liable and have to pay compensation.

This is not always the case, however.

Two recent decisions of the Court of Appeal give some comfort to employers when it comes to employers liability and health and safety obligations in the workplace.

Court of Appeal Decisions

The first case to look at is Greene v Dunnes Stores.

In this case a checkout operator in Dunnes Stores slipped on a wrapper in her store and injured her arm, shoulder and elbow. Dunnes Stores defended the claim which ended up in the Court of Appeal and Dunnes gave evidence of a security operative walking through the area 5 minutes before the accident and he had not seen any wrapper on the floor.

Dunnes gave evidence that this security person regularly walked through the area and checked the area from the perspective of security and hygiene.

The Court of Appeal held that this was a reasonable approach by the employer and a key defence for an employer is ‘did he act as a reasonable employer?’

The Court of Appeal also noted that the employee had received training and allowed the employer’s appeal from the High Court decision.

Read the full decision here: Greene v Dunnes Stores [2019] IECA 115.

The other case is Kevin Keegan (Amended by the Order of the Court to Kevin Duke) v Dunnes Stores. In this case the Plaintiff suffered an injury when he stepped off a pallet and became entangled in shrink wrapping.

It was accepted that the plaintiff had received training for health and safety in the workplace and had even received refresher training after his original training.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the legal obligation on the employer to provide a safe place and system of work as far as is practicable but also recognised that the employee also has an obligation in respect of his own safety.

The Court of Appeal held ‘the proximate cause of the accident was the failure of the respondent to keep a proper look out and adhere to the instructions he had received in training’ and allowed Dunnes Stores appeal finding that the employee was responsible for the accident and his injury as the shrink wrap would have been obvious to him if he had looked.

Conclusion-not strict liability for employers

No matter how much the employer feels the deck is stacked against him in these types of cases it is clear that the Courts will still require the plaintiff to prove the defendant was negligent and it is not a case of strict liability for the employer.

It is clear,however, that the fact that the employer provided health and safety training for its employees was a big factor in avoiding liability in both of these cases.