In the matter of Kelleher v J & A Accessories Pty Ltd  QSC 227, Justice Ryan of the Supreme Court explained why an employer is obliged to train workers in seemingly “everyday activities”.
The claim involved a 45 year-old truck driver who suffered lower back and psychiatric injuries while exiting his truck in August 2013. The injured worker suffered injuries when he “boosted” himself from his seat directly to the ground while facing away from the truck cabin. He failed to use the step in place between the cabin of the truck and the ground and jarred his back when landing on the ground.
The parties agreed the proper way to exit a truck was to face towards the cabin of the truck, maintaining three points of contact and using the step.
The employer argued that exiting a truck was “an everyday activity” for a truck driver and the Plaintiff ought to have known how to perform this task, the task did not present any reasonably foreseeable risk of injury, and that its duty of care did not extend to warning the Plaintiff about the proper way to exit a truck. The employer highlighted that the Plaintiff had entered and exited the truck approximately 7,000 times in the past without suffering injury, and had a truck licence when employed.
The Court did not agree with the employer’s views and found that exiting the particular truck in question presented a risk of injury that was reasonably foreseeable, and given the height of the cabin, was not “an everyday activity” such as exiting an ordinary car or other vehicle that could be driven with a car licence. The Court found a reasonable employer requiring workers to exit a truck would have:
- Located and read government-published guidelines regarding preventing falls from trucks;
- Appreciated that exiting the truck presented a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury;
- Undertaken an appropriate risk assessment;
- Devised proper work methods to exit the truck;
- Trained employees in those methods; and
- Instructed employees to use those methods and ensured those methods were implemented.
The Court awarded the injured worker over $320,000.
The decision in Kelleher is a timely reminder that employers should consider the scope of the duty of care owed to workers.
A prudent employer should think about what tasks it expects workers to perform and consider the risk involved, no matter how “ordinary” the task may seem.