News & Views

Snow and Ice = More Equipment Costs to Employers?

DC
BY Douglas Cameron
Health & Safety
BG Orange

Readers may have seen in the media this week, details of a landmark ruling from the UK Supreme Court in relation to a care worker, who successfully won her industrial injury claim against her employer for not providing proper footwear while at work.

The claimant’s duties involved her providing care support to people in their homes.  In December 2010, she was driven to a house of a patient under care, by a colleague. The car was parked close to a public footpath leading to the house. The footpath was on a slope, and was covered in fresh snow and overlying ice. It had not been gritted or salted. The employee was wearing flat boots with ridged soles. After taking a few steps along the footpath, she slipped and fell to the ground, injuring her wrist.

The claimant successfully sued her employer (for injuries sustained) and for breaching their duty of care, by failing to provide her with suitable footwear to prevent the injury (slipping on the snow/ice). That decision was subsequently overturned on appeal by the employer, only for the original decision to be reinstated on appeal to the Supreme Court.  

The case centred on whether employees working outside in wintry conditions should be supplied with appropriate footwear to guard against the risk of injury from slipping.  The Court agreed the service had to be provided and could not be postponed due to inclement weather. The Court accepted that an over shoe attachment was available and was in use by other businesses.

It was considered the attachment and others of similar nature would have provided the appropriate grip and most likely would have avoided the accident.  

It was not a case where the employer was ignorant the hazards or risks, they had advised employees to wear suitable footwear when venturing out in such conditions.  However, these steps were considered inadequate.  There was no specific advice as to what might constitute such footwear, and no checking of what was worn. In those circumstances, the risk assessment had not been “suitable and sufficient”, as required by law.

This decision will clearly have ramifications for the care sector but we believe for many other employers who have staff carrying out work outside or whose employees travel to client premises.  

Like with any hazard, employers are expected to adequately assess the risk and to take reasonable steps to minimise the likelihood of an accident. This case highlight inadequate risk assessments.

Employers who have any concerns about the adequacy of their current arrangements in respect of the provision of personal protective equipment, the adequacy of risk assessments or indeed any issue relating to health & safety can contact their H&S manager (if clients of Law At Work) or alternatively contact us on 0141 271 5555.  If you would like a style risk assessment in respect of winter weather risks, please contact us and we can send this through to you.

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