WEST SUSSEX COUNTY COUNCIL v KIM FULLER (2015)
Although a local authority was arguably in breach of duty in failing to carry out a risk assessment before asking a receptionist to deliver post around the office, for liability to be established there had to be a causal connection between the task and the injuries sustained when she tripped up a staircase while delivering post.
The appellant local authority appealed against a decision that it was liable for injuries suffered at work by the respondent employee.
The employee had been a receptionist at one of the local authority’s offices. She had been asked to start delivering post to different areas of the office. While delivering post, she had tripped up a staircase and put out her hand to break her fall, spraining a ligament in her wrist. The employee claimed that she had been carrying a large amount of bulky post and that the local authority was liable because it had failed to carry out a risk assessment under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 reg.3 and the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 reg.4. The judge found that she had not been carrying a large amount of post and had simply misjudged her footing, but he felt compelled to allow her claim because of the failure to carry out a risk assessment.
HELD: Liability for breach of reg.3 of the 1999 Regulations or reg.4 of the 1992 Regulations could not be established without proof of a causal link between the breach and the injury suffered, O’Neill v DSG Retail Ltd  EWCA Civ 1139,  I.C.R. 222, Davidson v Lothian and Borders Fire Board 2003 S.L.T. 939, Egan v Central Manchester and Manchester Children’s University Hospitals NHS Trust  EWCA Civ 1424,  I.C.R. 585 and Ghaith v Indesit Co UK Ltd  EWCA Civ 642,  I.C.R. D34 applied. The burden of proving that causal link was on the claimant, however, in many workplace situations, a failure by the employer to assess the risks of injury in a manual handling operation, and to take appropriate steps to reduce the risk of injury to the lowest level practicable, would effectively cast on to the employer the evidential burden of showing that its failure was not at least a cause of the accident. That was because there would be an obvious connection between the injury and the risks associated with the activity being undertaken. That was not the case where the cause of the accident was unconnected with the risk generated by the operation in question. In the instant case, the local authority had arguably been in breach of duty in failing to carry out a risk assessment, but on the facts found by the judge, the accident did not fall within the ambit of the risk that the local authority had arguably been required to assess. The employee had simply misjudged her footing when climbing a staircase while she happened to be carrying one or more items of post. Her accident was wholly causally unconnected with the circumstance that she had been carrying post (see paras 13, 23 of judgment).