April 22, 2016

A slippery slope? – Costly safety risk assessment lessons

Employers that require staff to work outdoors, travel or visit outdoor locations need to be aware of a recent Supreme Court decision which has had a huge impact on safety risk assessments.

The decision involved a Glasgow home carer, Tracey Kennedy, who was hurt after slipping on ice while visiting a terminally ill client in December 2010.

A judge ruled she was entitled to damages because her employer, Cordia, had not supplied the proper footwear.

She SHOULD have been supplied with sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the form of an attachment to her shoes – similar to the crampon type accessory used in snow bound countries.

The ruling will have an impact not only on the Domestic Care Sector but will also place similar requirements for employers in the door to door marketing, paper delivery, courier and similar businesses to ensure they take suitable precautions in winter conditions.

Risk assessments for travelling workers

In the case, the importance of risk assessments was highlighted. They should have:

  • Undertaken competent assessments accounting for all known hazards and introducing suitable control mechanisms.
  • Recognised their duty of care for peripatetic workers who travel between clients were at work.
  • Looked closely at the potential hazards associated with this part of the job as part of the risk assessments

It was obvious to the Supreme Court, that had a suitable and sufficient risk assessment been carried out it would have determined that shoe attachments could have reduced the likelihood of Ms Kennedy slipping on the ice.

The evidence of the expert witness was key to proving that the risk assessment was totally insufficient.

The decision by the Supreme Court to decide that the Health & Safety experts witness evidence was admissible maintained the importance of such evidence.

Their initial assessment and instruction to wear appropriate footwear was constituted to be a failing under the PPE Regulations.

Cordia had previous experience of similar incidents, the risks of slips trips or falls had previously been identified in two risk assessments in the previous five years.

More importantly, the risks which existed had not been properly assessed. The possibility of injury was very high, and could have been serious and included fractures and head injuries.

What should you do as an employer?

It’s important to understand that risk assessments must account for all significant risks an employee is exposed to.

For peripatetic workers, this includes travel during work activities.

When providing PPE as part of a risk assessment, it is essential to ensure that the provided PPE makes an injury ‘highly unlikely’.

It’s no use just providing something that might work, a proper assessment accounting for the hazards to be protected from must be undertaken to ensure the employee is properly protected.

When a Risk Assessment identifies PPE as a suitable control then this should be a last resort having explored all other possible control measures.  In addition, PPE required to comply with the findings of a risk assessment MUST be issued to staff free of charge.

Risk Assessments for normal activities

Employers must carry out Risk Assessments for normal activities. Travel between clients’ premises is still classed as being at work and the employer’s duty of care to their employees is still very much in play.

The court case ruling did not stipulate which type of PPE should have been issued to the employee but the risk assessment could have identified this as a control measure, although the issue of PPE is generally reviewed as a last resort.

Ms Kennedy was wearing flat shoes with basic ridging on the sole. These were not suitable for the weather conditions.  Whilst the pavements had been gritted, the client’s private footpath hadn’t.

The standard Hierarchy of control measures indicates that the use of PPE should be a last resort.

A decision on the practicability of other control measures, such as a review as to the need for a site visit, should take place or providing rock salt to grit the client’s paths should have been considered before deciding that PPE was the only option.

Remember: Ensuring Risk Assessments are carried out for all tasks and processes including travel to and from clients’ premises is a key part of ensuring that all hazards and risks are addressed and controlled where possible.

If you need Health & Safety advice, contact us. You can also attend one of our quarterly Health & Safety Webinars.

 

 

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About the author

Michael Sturgess