Falls in the Workplace

Falls in the workplace resulting in injuries are not uncommon and compensation claims are a foreseeable consequence of these falls. Whilst it is recognised that an employer owes a duty of care to its employees, there are circumstances where courts will refrain from attributing the fall and any resulting injuries to the employer.

One such case is Deans v Maryborough Christian Education Foundation Ltd [2019] QCA 75, in which an employee sought compensation for the injuries she sustained after slipping on a grape.

Debbie Deans, a teacher at Riverside Christian College slipped on a grape as she was walking through the foyer towards her classroom following a ”fruit break”. As a result she suffered a fracture of the left patella and pursued a claim against her employers for their alleged negligence.  A finding of negligence requires consideration of  3 elements; reasonable foreseeability, significance of risk and the reasonableness of taking precautions against the identified risk.[1] An employer will have breached their duty of care where they fail to take reasonable precautions against a not insignificant risk which is reasonably foreseeable. 

In the case of Debbie Deans, the Queensland Court of Appeal rejected the proposition that her injury was the result of a reasonably foreseeable and not insignificant risk which the School ought reasonably to have taken precautions against. (replace this with simpler sentence? Just COA found against employers being negligent e.g.)

The risk in question was formulated at [46] as the;

risk that at or about fruit break, a child would drop the fruit on the floor of the foyer, that the child (or someone else) would not pick it up; that a person who was traversing the foyer on foot would fail to see the grape; that the person would tread on it, slip and fall to the ground; and that the person would be injured as a result.”

Despite the seemingly random and unlikely nature of this incident, that is, the tripping over of a discarded grape, the court found that it was an occurrence which was in fact reasonably foreseeable and moreover, one which the school ought reasonably to have foreseen.[2]  Whilst the risk was considered reasonably foreseeable, the probability of that risks occurrence ( or that risk) was found to be “very low”[3]

Debbie forwarded the notion that her employers should have taken precautions against the risk of falling by way of implementing a recess-like supervision system in which the class teacher, or another available staff member, would accompany students to their bags and back to the classroom thereby preventing fruit from being dropped and subsequently left on the foyer floor. Where an employee points to an employers failure to provide safeguards in alleging negligence, they must prove that the provision of such safeguards would have avoided the risk of harm.[4] The court highlighted the flawed nature of Debbie’s proposition with specific reference to the inadequate evidentiary basis which did not support a finding that her proposed system would have avoided the risk of injury.[5] Effectively, Debbie had not persuaded the court that her employers ought reasonably to have taken precautions  against the risk of her slipping over a grape whilst walking to the classroom.

Debbie also suggested that her employers failed to sufficiently warn her of the risk, specifically forwarding the proposition that they “ought to have instructed [her] that before traversing the foyer area immediately after a fruit break, she should check it for any spillage of fruit”.[6] The court referenced the knowledge that adults have concerning the importance of looking out for objects on the ground in avoiding hazards before concluding that in this instance, “there was nothing relevant of which [Debbie] was unaware and of which the [school] reasonably needed to have given her warning about”.[7]

In culmination of the above factors Debbie’s appeal was dismissed with costs.

Takeway Lessons

This case reminds claimants of the importance of assessing the pursuit of compensation in light of principles that courts will take into account, including; reasonably foreseeability, significance of risk and reasonableness of taking precautions. Moreover, it challenges the commonly discussed assertion that an employer will be held to account for a fall in the workplace regardless of how trivial it might be.

If you or someone you know has suffered an injury as a result of a fall in the workplace or other workplace incident, contact Corney & Lind for advice regarding your rights to claim compensation. 

Written by: Eduardo Cruz.

[1] Wyong Shire Council v Shirt (1980) 146 CLR 40, [47]-[48]

[2] [48].

[3] [56].

[4] Lusk v Sapwell [2011] QCA 59, [76].

[5] [61].


[7] [65].

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