Worker falls down stairs at work: Who’s to blame?

In the recent decision of Manca v Teys Australia Beenleigh Pty Ltd [2023] QDC 139, the Court was required to consider whether Mr Manca, or his employer, Teys Australia Beenleigh Pty Ltd (Teys) was responsible for Mr Manca’s slip and fall.  

Facts of the Claim

On 11 February 2020, after completing his shift, Mr Manca exited the area where slaughtered cattle were drained of blood (the blooding floor). He undertook a preliminary washdown in a cubicle, proceeded to a walkway and descended steps. He alleged Teys did not (i) clean the steps adequately to remove any blood and (ii) provide adequate facilities for employees to clean their equipment of blood before descending the steps, causing him to slip on the steps and fall, resulting in a broken rib and soft tissue injury to his back.

While Teys accepted Mr Manca slipped and fell while descending the steps and suffered the alleged injuries, Teys argued Mr Manca’s injuries were caused by his own negligence because he descended the steps without holding the handrail. Teys also alleged Mr Manca was trained and required to use the handrail. 

Evidence at Trial

Mr Manca and witnesses he called gave evidence that congealed blood was slippery. But two witnesses called by Teys gave contrary evidence and said no one had ever fallen down the steps.

Mr Manca did not adduce any expert evidence about the slipperiness of the blood on the steps. 

The Court could not be satisfied that any particular matter caused the plaintiff’s fall, and at most, the evidence gave rise to “inference of equal degree of probability so that the choice between them is a mere matter of conjecture… [as to which] the law does not authorise a court to choose between guesses… on the ground that one guess seems more likely than another or the others“. 

Teys also argued that it was not negligent because Mr Manca was trained to use the handrail. Teys pleaded it had erected signs on the premises to remind employees to use the handrail. Teys pleaded if Mr Manca held onto the handrail with one hand and held his tools/equipment with his other hand, he would not have slipped and if he did, he would not have suffered the alleged injuries.  

The Court's Decision

In the end, the Court found Teys was not negligent, because Mr Manca failed to prove what caused him to fall. 

The Court also found Teys had taken reasonable steps to reduce the risk that an employee would slip on the steps, and accepted Teys’ submission that there was no evidence demonstrating whether any particular alternative stair applications, treads, system of inspection or any other precaution not taken by Teys would or would not have avoided the plaintiff’s fall. 

In considering whether Mr Manca contributed to his injury, the Court found that by choosing to hold his tools and equipment with both hands and not using the handrail (when he could have held everything in his left hand and used the handrail with his right hand), Mr Manca was contributorily negligent in the order of 50%. 

Wisdom of the Case

Obviously, every case turns on its own facts, but this decision is a good reminder to employers of the importance of having a well-designed and safe system of work in place. If an employer has a safe system of work and has taken reasonable steps to mitigate the risk, the employer does not breach its duty of care to an employee merely because an employee suffered an injury. 

Mr Manca has since appealed the decision, which we will provide an update on once the appeal has been published.

“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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