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House of Lords rule on Liability for injuries caused at work by Equipment not provided by the employer.

28th June 2009

The House of Lords have given an important ruling which may restrict liability for any accidents caused by defective equipment that does not belong to the employer, particularly if it is not on the employer’s premises.

The ruling examined the proper meaning of the phrase “equipment provided for use or used by an employee at his work” that is found in the Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

The case concerned a Mrs Smith who worked for Northamptonshire County Council as a driver and carer. One part of her job was to collect people in need of care from their homes and take them to a daycare centre. She sustained an accident at the home of one of the people she was collecting. The accident happened when Mrs Smith stumbled as an edge of a ramp between the patient’s living room and patio area crumbled under her foot as she was pushing the patient over it in a wheelchair. Mrs Smith brought a personal injury claim against her employer, Northamptonshire County Council, alleging that they had been in breach of the 1998 Regulations.

While the House of Lords accepted that the ramp counted as “work equipment”, under the 1998 Regulations, they ruled that on a proper understanding of the Regulations it could not be said that the ramp had been “provided for use or used by an employee at his work”. The concern that the House of Lords had was that there had to be some degree of limitation of the 1998 Regulations. Otherwise the Regulations would produce absurd results, such as an injury caused by a broken chair or desk at a premises that an employee visits or uses during working hours would result in liability for the resulting personal injury claim.

The decision form the House of Lords presents a sensible approach to the 1998 Regulations, and a limitation on responsibility for any accident that has been caused by equipment over which the employer has had no control. This is certainly to be welcomed as a fair and sensible application of health and safety law.

If you require further information or advice on any of the matters raised in this article, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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