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Was an injury suffered in the course of employment?

An injury suffered by a teacher using a rope swing on a school excursion was found not compensable in the recent case of Geraldine Glass v Workers Compensation Regulator [2020] ICQ 001.

The teacher (Geraldine Glass) accompanied her students to Vanuatu on a school trip, which had been approved by the International Travel and Advisory Panel (ITAP).

On the second day of the trip, some of the teachers decided to alter the itinerary because the original destination was unsuitable for that day. Instead the group travelled to Blue Lagoon, which had not been approved by the ITAP, nor had the teachers undertaken a risk assessment of the revised outing.

At Blue Lagoon there was a knotted rope that was attached to a tree overhanging the water. A person could climb onto an elevated platform, take hold of the knotted rope and swing off the platform over the water, let go of the rope and fall into the water. Ms Glass swung on the rope, fell into the water and consequently suffered a shoulder injury.

While the students encouraged the teachers to participate and use the rope swing, no one with authority over Ms Glass had compelled or requested the teachers to participate in the activity. In her case, Ms Glass argued that participating in the rope swing activity was part of the educational aspect of the trip, which helped develop relationships with the students and gave them confidence.

The Court relied on documented plans, risk assessments and risk management procedures that had been developed to determine whether the  worker acted outside the scope of their employment.

In the end, the Court held that the participation in the rope swing activity did not form part of Ms Glass’s duties as a teacher and was in fact outside the scope of her employment. This was particularly evident given the lengths the employer had gone to to identify and manage risk, and to compel the observation of plans designed to deal with risk. In addition, the rope swing was not an authorised activity for either staff or students; Ms Glass made a voluntary choice to participate in the rope swing activity; the rope swing activity was recreational; it was not a requirement of her employment for her to participate; and it was physically impossible for Ms Glass to supervise the students while also participating in the rope swing activity.

As such, this case serves as a reminder – for both employers and employees – that an employer will not be held liable where a worker has acted outside the scope of their employment on a “frolic of their own”.

Article written by Cameron Seymour (Partner) and Natalie Woodward (Associate).

"The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication."