How can an employer be liable when a worker falls over pulling a trolley?

The answer is, when lots of small risks converge into a “perfect storm” and an everyday task becomes an accident waiting to happen.

In a real, recent case study, a worker pulled a loaded trolley across a concrete floor. She caught her foot under the crossbar of the trolley, stumbled and fell, breaking her hip.

At first glance, one would be tempted to assert that an employer is not required to warn a worker to be careful when pulling a trolley, but each component of the task needs to be analysed:

  • The trolley had handles and low crossbars which invited pushing or pulling from either end (trolleys found in supermarkets have a push bar, with a low crossbar at only one end);
  • The trolley was laden with items to be transferred across the production floor;
  • The trolley was pulled across a drain covered by a grate. The fall of the floor sloped towards the drain to allow spills to flow into the drain;
  • As the worker walked towards and crossed the drain, the trolley went down a slight slope and then up a slight slope;
  • The worker’s uniform was supplied by the employer and was loose fitting;
  • The worker exerted force on the trolley to pull it up the slight slope;
  • As the worker pulled the trolley up the slight gradient, a wheel from the trolley became momentarily stuck in the grate. When it released, the trolley became unbalanced, tilting from side to side. The force upon the sudden release and tilt made the trolley unstable. The low crossbar struck the worker’s shin trapping her foot under the trolley. The loose pants leg of the uniform may have then tangled in the wheel of the trolley; and
  • The worker lost balance, fell backwards and fractured her hip.

Using the trolley on the concrete floor and across the grate was a common task.

No instruction was given to push the trolley rather than pull it.

Had the worker been instructed to only push the trolley instead of pull it, the sudden force released when crossing the grate would have propelled the trolley away from the worker rather than towards her. The trolley would not have struck her and she would not have lost balance and fallen.

Providing that instruction, explaining its importance and enforcing it would have been a simple and inexpensive way of avoiding the convergence of risks which resulted in a serious injury.

This case study highlights the need for risk assessment of seemingly everyday and innocuous tasks to identify and reduce the chance of unexpected incidents.

“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.”
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