Former Coles employee awarded $1 million after falling from stool

by HCA01 May 2017
A 34-year-old woman has been awarded more than $1 million after she injured herself by falling from a safety step at a Coles supermarket.

The ACT Supreme Court heard she fell on her right side and injured her hip. After a range of different medical treatments, the hip had to be replaced.

The incident happened when she was working in a Canberra store for one month in 2009.

Nicole Harris claimed she had no training in using the step and had just observed what a fellow worker had done and copied her movements.

Lawyers for Coles told the Court the safety step was used by supermarkets across Australia, and was an obvious piece of equipment for which no training was necessary.

Moreover, Coles denied her claims the company had been negligent, breached its duty of care or failed to provide a safe workplace.

However, Justice Linda Ashford disagreed that the training wasn’t necessary and did not believe Harris was exaggerating the extent of the symptoms.

"I do not accept there to have been the requisite training in the use of the step and there appears to have been no supervision or monitoring of the plaintiff in the performance of her work whilst using the step,” she wrote.

"The defendant submits the plaintiff to be exaggerating her symptoms. I did not believe the plaintiff to be other than straightforward in her evidence.

"Clearly this has been a significant injury and the plaintiff will have continuing problems with her hip, leading almost inevitably to further hip replacement surgery."

She added that calling a step a safety step does not make it so.

“At first blush, this seems a straightforward item in common use, yet the defendant's spreadsheet indicates 47 per cent of accidents using the step occurred in getting down from the step,” she wrote.

“This is not an exercise in hindsight. This is not a dangerous step, per se, but this was an accident the defendant, as an employer, should have and could have avoided by proper supervision and training of the plaintiff and other employees.”

Harris was awarded $1,088,468.53 in compensation, with $570,229 to cover past and future economic loss, $222,200 in general damages and $236,039 for past and future medical expenses.

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  • by Bernie Althoer EGLI ASSESSMENTS PTY LTD 6/05/2017 4:57:10 PM

    Incidents such as this indicate the importance of maintaining a documented process and system for recording training. Whilst there may be some assumptions made that a worker will 'know' how to use equipment and resources provided for their work activities, it is important to not only provide those resources but to test their ability to use them.

    On the face of it, it might appear that 'anyone' and 'everyone' can use a resource at their disposal, and whilst some may 'say' they can use such resource, it is important to ensure that they can actually use the resource in accordance not only with the manufacturers specifications, but also in accordance with organisational policy and procedures.

    Bad habits do creep into organisations and unfortunately these become accepted as the 'way we do things around here'. It does not mean tha that the procedure is safe of that the worker is meeting obligations, but merely that an employee is 'getting the job done'.

    One might pose the question "Should an organisation invest more time in being proactive and taking proactive action, or should they wait until a claim is made and then try and mitigate the penalities imposed?"

    Watching others undertake or perform a task might not be the safest way of 'getting the job done'. However, the level of risk exposure might increase substantiallly based on the level of training provided. I woud be asking questions such as "Why are you doing that?" and "Who showed you that was the procedure to follow?"

    When it comes to a Court, Commission or Tribunal hearing, there is always going to be someone who will be able to identify some gaps in training and performance. Unfortunately, what happens is that people end up being 'busy'; don't have time to do the task safely and end up putting themselves at risk of injury and their organisation at risk of exposure to litigation.

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