Workers Compensation

All employers in WA are required by law to have a valid and current workers’ compensation insurance policy covering all employees for injuries or illnesses sustained at work. An injury or illness caused during your employment may entitle you to receive financial compensation. To understand more about what types of work related injuries there are, and what you can claim for, please read our page on Workers Compensation.

Plaintiff’s claim against principal contractor dismissed 900 577 aelegal

Plaintiff’s claim against principal contractor dismissed

CLARK -v- SCHNEIDER ELECTRIC (AUSTRALIA) PTY LTD [2021] WADC 11

Introduction

In December 2014, the plaintiff was employed by a company called Mineworks when he suffered a back injury whilst working as a painter and sandblaster at the Australian Marine Complex (AMC).

This case was a separate tort claim against the defendant, Schneider Electric (Australia) Pty Ltd (Schneider).

The job to be completed was the construction of switch rooms (rooms) for Chevron Australia Pty Ltd (Chevron).

Chevron had given the contract for the construction of the rooms to Schneider. Schneider then engaged a subcontractor called HVLV Pty Ltd (HVLV). HVLV then engaged Mineworks to supply workers to complete certain of the painting work. Mineworks had no presence on the work site and merely provided workers, of which the plaintiff was one. Schneider controlled the worksite.

The Plaintiff worked beneath the switch room structures, which were mounted on concrete filled drums and stood approximately 1.5 m above the ground. The Plaintiff was 1.76 m tall and was required to work 10-hour days, Monday to Friday, and five hours on Saturday. He was therefore required to either stoop or sit and work above his head for extended periods. As a result, he experienced severe lower back pain extending into his buttocks. This was later identified as disc protrusions at the L3/4, L4/5 and L5/S1 levels.

Negligence based tort actions generally have four primary components, namely duty of care, breach of that duty, causation and finally damage.

The Plaintiff thus sought to show that Schneider owed him a duty of care, which they breached, and finally that this caused the damage or injury which he had sustained.

Duty of Care

The plaintiff alleged that as an occupier of AMC, or as the head contractor at AMC, Schneider owed him a duty of care. He argued that there were three possible sources for that duty of care:

  1. a common law duty;
  2. a duty pursuant to s 5 of the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1985 (WA); and
  3. a duty pursuant to s 22 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (WA).

The court indicated that the common law duty in Western Australia had been superseded by a duty pursuant to Civil Liability Act 2002 (WA). The alleged common law duty was that Schneider should have provided a place of work, or system of work which did not unreasonably expose the plaintiff to the risk of harm. This would be the same as a duty under the Civil Liability Act.

S 5 of the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1985 (WA) provides that an occupier of premises has a reasonable duty towards a person entering onto a premises to see that that person will not suffer injury or damage by reason the state of the premises or to anything done or omitted to be done on the premises and for which the occupier is by law responsible. This may, in certain circumstances, be extended, restricted, modified or excluded by agreement.

s22 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (WA) provides a person that has control of a workplace where persons who are not employees of that person work shall take such measures as are practicable to ensure that persons who are at the workplace are not exposed to hazards.

s5B of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (WA) provides that a person is not liable for harm caused by that person’s fault in failing to take precautions against a risk of harm unless the risk was foreseeable, that is, it is a risk of which the person knew or ought to have known and that the risk was not insignificant and that, in the circumstances, a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would have taken precautions. Further, that in determining whether a reasonable person would have taken precautions against a risk of harm, the court is to balance the following:

  1. the probability that the harm would occur if care were not taken.
  2. the likely seriousness of the harm.
  3. the burden of taking precautions to avoid the risk of harm.
  4. the social utility of the activity that creates the risk of harm.

The court then turned to principles governing the duty of principal contractors to the workers of independent contractors, and relied on three cases:

  1. Leighton Contractors Pty Ltd v Fox [2009] HCA 35; (2009) 240 CLR 1: A principal contractor, who employs subcontractors, owes a duty to the employees of the subcontractors to take reasonable care when co-ordinating the activities of trades at the worksite to avoid unnecessary risks of injury or minimise the risk of injury to those engaged in the activity it organised.
  2. Stevens v Brodribb Sawmilling Co Pp Ltd (1986) 160 CLR 16: This is an exception to the rule in the Leighton case where the court held that if a principal contractor has engaged independent contractors to do work that might readily have been done by its own employees, in circumstances in which there is a risk to them of injury arising from the nature of the work, then there is a duty to direct and coordinate of the activities being undertaken.
  3. CGU Insurance Limited v Coote (by his Next Friend Stephen Desmond Coote) [2018] WASCA 117: Leighton and the Stevens exception are not exhaustive of the circumstances in which liability may be found on the part of a principal or head contractor. The nature and extent of the duty of care must be established by a reference to the general law of negligence. A duty may arise in circumstances where, “reasonable care on the part of the contractor affects the way in which the work is to be undertaken and the safety of the work site, and where other considerations such as vulnerability, inequality of bargaining power, control, and the other manifold factors that the law recognises as being relevant to the existence of a duty of care, are present”.

The court then turned to the facts of this case and more particularly the relationship between Schneider and HVLV (the intermediate sub-contractor). The contract between Schneider and HVLV provided that HVLV “was responsible for the performance of the subcontract work, relevantly the painting   and    sandblasting    of    the    switch    room    structures, was responsible for organising the way in which the work was performed and was responsible for the employment or hiring of workers to perform the work. Further, HVLV maintained ‘complete control and responsibility over its employees’ in the way in which they performed their work duties. The subcontract agreement did not give Schneider the right to control and direct the employees of HVLV as to the manner in which they were to perform their work duties, trades and activities on site. Schneider did not have the right, nor the responsibility, by the subcontract to control and direct how subcontractor employees ought to perform their work duties.”

Thus, the court held there was no duty owed by Schneider to the plaintiff.

Causation

The court raised two issues in relation to causation. The first was that there was no evidence that clearly linked the conditions of work to the final injuries. The second was that there was no evidence that even if Schneider had taken the steps that the plaintiff had put forward (inter alia, a roster-based rotational system of work and a different chair) that these would have avoided or reduced the risk of injury to Mr Clark.

Thus, the court held that even if it was wrong on the issue of duty of care, Schneider was still not liable because causation was absent.

Conclusion

The plaintiff’s action was therefore dismissed.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Worker not entitled to vehicle running expenses and accommodation 960 577 aelegal

Worker not entitled to vehicle running expenses and accommodation

(BRIGGS -v- WACHS – PILBARA (HEDLAND HEALTH CAMPUS) [2018] WADC 73)

The Hedland Health Campus employed Mr David Briggs (Mr Briggs) as a Registered Nurse. In March 2016, Mr Briggs was assaulted at work as a result of which he suffered an injury to his left shoulder. The employer accepted liability. In February 2017 Mr Briggs drove from South Hedland to Perth and back to see an approved medical specialist, Dr Cordova. The question which arose for determination was whether the employer was obliged to pay Mr Briggs’ vehicle running expenses, together with meals and accommodation in the sum of $1,996.08.

In order to answer that question, it was necessary for the Court to determine which clause of schedule 1 to the Workers’ Compensation and Injury Management Act 1981 (WA) (Act) applied.

An approved medical specialist such as Dr Cordova may be required to make an assessment of a worker, the approved specialist is required to give to the worker and the employer a written report of the worker’s degree of impairment, including details of the assessment and reasons justifying the assessment and a certificate specifying the worker’s degree of impairment.

Clause 17(1aa) of Schedule 1 to the Act provides that a worker can claim for certain specified expenses for his/her first assessment or attempt at an assessment for the purposes of s 93L of the Act (which this was) but not including the cost of any travel, meals, or lodging.

Clause 19(3A) of Schedule 1 to the Act provides that where a worker travels for his/her degree of impairment to be assessed by an approved medical specialist the employer is liable to pay the worker’s vehicle running expenses, reasonable fares and expenses and reasonable cost of meals and lodging.

Considering the two clauses above, the Court applied the principle that statutory texts enacted by the same legislature are to be construed so far as possible to operate in harmony and not in conflict.  That principle of harmonious construction applies to the construct ion of provisions within different statutes of the same legislature to create a very strong presumption that the legislature did not intend to contradict itself but intended that both should operate.

Clause 17(1aa) is confined by its express words to expenses arising from a s 93L assessment.  Clause 19(3A) deals with any case where a worker travels for his/her degree of impairment to be assessed by an approved medical specialist or panel.  Clause 19(3A) includes but is not limited to s 93L assessment.  Clause 19(3A) is therefore wider in its potential application than cl 17(1aa).

There is a principle of statutory interpretation that where there is a conflict between two sections of an act and where there is a general provision which, if applied in its entirety, would neutralise a special provision dealing with the same subject matter, the special provision must be read as a proviso to the general provision, and the general provision in so far as it is inconsistent with the special provision, must be deemed not to apply.

Applying that principle, the Court was satisfied that the arbitrator was correct in concluding that the two provisions can in fact be read together.  Although cl 19(3A) expressly contemplates the payment of a worker’s travelling expenses where a worker travels in order to have their degree of impairment assessed by an approved medical specialist, there are a number of reasons for such an assessment.  Clause 19(3A) provides for travel, meal and lodging expenses for all attendances for the purposes of common law assessments (s93L).  In the latter scenario the position is governed by cl 17(1aa). The Court was not prepared to disregard the plain words of the clauses, as there is a longstanding principle of statutory interpretation that all words in legislation should (where possible) be given meaning and effect therefore, those exclusionary words do not apply only to expenses payable under cl 17 and declined to construe the Act so as to conclude that a worker is compensated for medical and other expenses under cl 17(1) whilst, notwithstanding cl17(1aa), paid the associated travel and other expenses under cl 19.

Therefore, the employer was not obliged to pay Mr Briggs’ vehicle running expenses, together with meals and accommodation in the sum of $1,996.08.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Day Off Turns Into a Nightmare 960 577 aelegal

Day Off Turns Into a Nightmare

RAMSAY HEALTH CARE AUSTRALIA PTY LTD VS WYATT – [2017] WADC 145

On 8 April 2014 (on a rostered day off), Ms Wyatt attended the hospital where she worked to complete a form that had been requested of her previously. It is accepted that her attendance did not relate to the nursing duties for which she was employed. As she went to sit on a chair proximate to the computer she intended to use, she missed the chair, landed heavily on her buttocks on the floor and suffered injury. Thereafter, Ms Wyatt commenced a workers’ compensation claim for weekly payments of compensation and statutory expenses.

The hospital denied liability and disputed the fact of the injury arose out of or in the course of her employment with it.

On 29 November 2016, an arbitrator at WorkCover found in favour of Ms Wyatt and ordered that the hospital pay her weekly payments of compensation for total incapacity for the period from 8 April 2014 to 12 November 2014 and from 12 to 22 January 2015.

The hospital appealed the arbitrator’s decision, pursuant to section 247(1) of the Workers’ Compensation and Injury Management Act. The issues for the appeal were:

  • whether the factual material placed before the arbitrator compelled a finding that the Ms Wyatt’s injury was in fact suffered in the course of her employment, notwithstanding that she had not been rostered to work on that day and had attended her place of work of her own volition; or
  • whether Ms Wyatt’s attendance at the hospital on that day was reasonably required, expected or authorised in order to carry out her actual duties or necessarily incidental thereto, that is to say, in the context of what Ms Wyatt was employed to do.

The court observed that after “… having reviewed the arbitrator’s findings and reasons, I am satisfied that in making the finding that the arbitrator did not apply the correct test when determining if the respondent’s injury occurred in the course of her employment…”.

The judge found that he was “…. satisfied that the arbitrator was in error in focusing on what the respondent (Ms Wyatt) was doing at the time, rather than whether the appellant (the hospital) had induced or encouraged the respondent to engage in that activity at the time and the place when she suffered the injury …” and dismissed Ms Wyatt’s appeal.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Manufacturer Of Heavy Equipment Not Liabile To Contribute For Injuries Of Worker 960 506 aelegal

Manufacturer Of Heavy Equipment Not Liabile To Contribute For Injuries Of Worker

In the recently decided matter of Simpson v Alliance Contracting PTY (Ltd) and Friob PTY (Ltd) [2016] WADC 158, the Plaintiff was severely injured in a mine site accident when he made his way under the suspended stemming bucket of a loader and attempted to remove an obstruction by reaching his left hand up into a discharge chute.  At that particular instance the driver of the loader inadvertently engaged the hydraulics of the vehicle allowing the operating sliding gate in the discharge chute to severely lacerate and partially amputate the Plaintiff’s left hand.

In an action against his employer, the employer as Defendant commenced Third Party Proceedings against Friob PTY Ltd (Friob) who had manufactured and supplied the stemming bucket at the request of the Plaintiff’s employer.

The Court was requested to decide whether it was reasonably foreseeable for Friob that a person, such as the Plaintiff, may use a variety of methods to clear a blockage at the gate of the discharge chute in a thoughtless, inadvertent, careless or deliberate manner by inserting a hand or arm into the discharge chute in an attempt to manually clear a blockage.

Numerous expert witnesses were called including but not limited to a Civil Engineer, an Equipment Asset Manager, a Mechanical Engineer and the General Manager of Friob.

Find out more about workers compensation here. 

In considering the relevant legal principles, including Section 5A (2) of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (WA), causation, duty of care and the assumption of risk, the Court found as follows:

a)   Friob had a duty of care to manufacture design and supply stemming buckets:
i) that were fit for their intended purposes;
ii) with reasonable care and skill so as to not to create any unavoidable hazards;
iii) in a manner which avoided reasonably foreseeable risk of injury to an employee; and
iv) which avoided reasonably foreseeable risk of injury;
b)   that an Australian Standard:
i) is a guide to, but cannot dictate, the standard of reasonable care required in the circumstances of individual cases;
ii) also represents the consensus of professional opinion and practical experience as to sensible safety precautions and a standard of reasonable conduct;

However, in this case, the risk of injury of the kind suffered by the Plaintiff and the general manner in which it might occur were not reasonably foreseeable for the following reasons, among others:

a)  the stemming bucket was manufactured and designed:
i) for delivering stemming material into a blast hole on a mine site;
ii) for a loader and it was unable to operate in isolation to that loader;
b)  the stemming bucket was hydraulically operated with a sliding gate which was in-built not open or exposed;
c)  the stemming bucket was designed to be used by a single worker and operated by him with controls in the cabin;
d)  it was manufactured to be hydraulically operated by the driver and not by someone within reach of the operative/driver and positioned in the cabin;
e)  the loader operator/driver did not need to be in close proximity to or require access to the hydraulically operated sliding gate in the ordinary cause of operating the stemming bucket;
f)   various warnings were included in an operation and maintenance manual provided by the manufacturer;
g)  the loader operator/driver was required to carry out training modules in safety rules and operating procedures which were common across the mining industry; and
h)  when the stemming bucket was on the ground there was no access to the discharge chute.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Termination day notice to be strictly adhered by employers 1024 681 liz-birdbrain

Termination day notice to be strictly adhered by employers

Termination day notice to be strictly adhered by employers

In the District Court matter of Reale v Wesfarmers Kleenheat Gas Pty Ltd [2016] WADC 5 and pursuant to the relevant section of the Workers’ Compensation and Injury Management Act 1981 (WA) (Act), Ms Reale (Plaintiff) lodged an election with WorkCover WA (WorkCover) to retain the right to pursue common law damages and subsequently commenced proceedings against her employer, Wesfarmers Kleenheat Gas Pty Ltd (Kleenheat).

The Court was faced with deciding the issue as to whether WorkCover had the power to extend the Plaintiff’s ‘termination day’ as Kleenheat had not provided her with the relevant prescribed statutory notice strictly within the 14-day period as stipulated by section 93O the Act.

The Court accepted that section 93O of the Act had not been complied with and accordingly held that WorkCover had the power to extend the termination date as the time stipulated in the Act had to be strictly complied with by the insurer/employer without exception

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

tradespersons
Don’t miss the common law limitation date for workers’ compensation claims! 1024 683 aelegal

Don’t miss the common law limitation date for workers’ compensation claims!

DON’T MISS THE COMMON LAW LIMITATION DATE IF YOU HAVE A WORKERS’ COMPENSATION CLAIM?

The consequences of missing a Common Law limitation date in your Workers’ Compensation Claim was addressed in the judgment of his Honour O’Neal DCJ in Kent v Mullally [No 2] [2016]  WADC  37.

In this matter Mr Kent was employed as a scaffolder by Thiess PTY Ltd at Alcoa Australia Limited’s Pinjarra Refinery.  Whilst on site working under hazardous conditions, Kent sustained a serious head injury and an injury to his left shoulder.

Kent subsequently consulted with the Defendants’ (who are Compensation Specialists) to seek Workers’ Compensation from his employers insurer.

Kent’s claim was initially correctly lodged and he began to receive weekly income payments. The Defendants’ however omitted to advise Kent that he could commence proceedings against Alcoa, (the owners of the site) which had to be instituted before the expiry of 3 years from the date of his injuries.

By the time Kent became aware that he could sue Alcoa, his claim had become statute barred pursuant to the provisions of the Limitation Act 2005 (WA) i.e. 3 years had elapsed since he sustained the injuries and he could no longer sue Alcoa.

It was clear from the evidence that Kent was never advised of the existence or effect of the three year limitation period due to the Defendants failure to inform him thereof. In the subsequent proceedings against the Defendants Kent alleged that they had breached their duty to exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence in not advising him which was a breach both in negligence and in contract. Kent subsequently commenced proceedings against the Defendants for his loss of opportunity to bring a common law claim against Alcoa, his Honour concluding that the Defendants had in fact breached their duty towards Kent and ordered them to pay his damages.

At A&E Legal, we are specialists in Personal Injury Compensation claims arising from an injury at work.  If you intend to, or have made a Personal Injury Compensation Claim with your employer, its Insurer or WorkCover (WA) and require expert guidance to ensure that you receive the maximum compensation due to you, please contact us for a no obligation free consultation in order for us to assess your claim and advise you accordingly.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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