1.6M TRIPPING FINE HIGHLIGHTS IMPACT OF TIME PRESSURE

A NSW court has ordered two companies to pay over $1.6 million in damages to a worker who was injured while performing a task that had an inherent tripping hazard.

The NSW Supreme Court apportioned 80% of the liability to the worker's host employer, JNC Group Australia Pty Ltd, for failing to detect the unsafe method used by the worker. The remaining 20% of the liability was assigned to the labour-hire company, Speedie Staff Solutions, for sending an unqualified recruitment officer to check on the worker.

The worker was injured in 2012 while operating a ‘vac truck’ to clean Telstra pits for JNC under their contract with Silcar. The worker slipped on the suction hose behind him while operating the high-pressure water blaster, resulting in a disabling back injury.

The worker argued that he was pressured to work quickly to keep ahead of the Silcar workers working on the pits after him. He developed a method of simultaneously blasting and vacuuming instead of using the blaster separately.

The court found the pressure the worker was under was a critical point, creating a foreseeable risk of harm. The judge determined precautions should have been taken to ensure a safe work system, including oversight of the worker's method and the provision of an additional worker to mitigate the risk.

The court concluded that both JNC and Speedie were negligent in their failure to properly inspect the worker's method and provide adequate supervision. The recruitment officer sent by Speedie lacked the necessary experience and qualifications to recognize the absence of a safe work system.

The court rejected the companies' claim that the worker was contributorily negligent and awarded the worker $1,682,391 in damages, including compensation for non-economic loss, past and future economic loss, and future domestic care.

Source: De Vries v JNC Group Australia Pty Limited [2023] NSWSC 777 (5 July 2023)

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