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PRP Architects v Precious Reid, Court of Appeal, 28 July 2006

14 September 2006
The issues

Work equipment – Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 Regulation 5 and Regulation 2(1) – whether lift in office block in common part of shared building was equipment being used at work for the purposes of the Regulation. Regulation 4 of the Workplace Regulations.

The facts

The Claimant was injured on the 20th November 2000. She worked as a receptionist in Smithfield, in a building owned by the Corporation of the City of London. A part of the second floor was let to the Defendant company under a 10 year lease. Access to the offices was by means of stairs and of a lift, both of which opened into a lobby area on the ground floor. The lift, the stairs and the lobby area were common parts of the buildings and were not let to the Defendant company.

On the day of the accident the Claimant was leaving the lift on the ground floor at the end of her working day. Her shoulder bag fell from her shoulder and as she reached down to pick it up the lift door closed trapping her right hand. It was conceded that safety devices which should have prevented the door from closing did not work. The Claimant suffered a crushing injury to her right wrist and the base of her right thumb.

The Claimant brought a claim against the managing agents of the building and against Industrial Lift Services Ltd who had a contract with the managing agents for the service and maintenance of the lift and against her employer. The Claimant brought a claim against her employer alleging both negligence and a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

At Trial the claims against the managing agents and Industrial Lift Services Ltd were not pursued. Regulation 5(1) provides:-

“Every employer shall ensure that work equipment is maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order
and in good repair”.

Work equipment is defined in Regulation 2 as meaning:-

“Any machinery, appliance, apparatus, tool or installation for use at work (whether exclusively or not)”.

The Judge found for the Claimant against the Defendant. The Defendant appealed.

The decision

The Judge found at Trial that in addition to using the lift in order to obtain access to an egress from the Defendant’s premises on the second floor, the Claimant also used the lift in the course of running errands for her employers.

At Trial the Defendant attempted to argue that the lift was not work equipment although this point had not been taken in the Court below. The Court of Appeal would not allow the point to be argued in the Court as it had not been taken below. However, the Court took the view that the expression “work equipment” should be given a broad construction. The word “installation” was capable of covering a lift in a building. It was however an arguable point. If the Respondent had descended by the stairs and her hand had become jammed in a faulty fire door the Court doubted whether the regulations would have applied. A distinction was necessary between “work equipment” on the one hand and the structure and condition of premises on the other.

For the purposes of this case the lift would be taken to be work equipment and therefore the case had to turn on the expression “use at work” in Regulations 2 and 3(2).

The Defendant sought to rely on the decision in Hammond v Commissioner or Police of the Metropolis in which the Court of Appeal found that a defective bolt, on a van on which the Claimant had been working and was not the property of his employer, had sheared. In that case the Court of Appeal decided that the Regulations were imposed in relation to work equipment provided by an employer for use by his employees when they were at work but that it did not apply to an object which the employee was working on which had been provided by others. There was therefore a limitation on the scope of the Regulations but it was not one relevant in this case. The lift, as with the wheel bolt in Hammond, had the attribute that it was the property of a third party but it was a facility used in the course of work which was different from an object worked on.

The test was whether the equipment was being used “at work”. The important factor was whether the employer was acting in the course of his employment. However, the expression “at work” as used in the context of the Directive, with its reference to “undertaking” and “establishment” might imply a special or geographical limitation upon the places at which, and therefore upon the equipment to which the duty attached. The degree of duty exercised over the equipment by the employer might also be a relevant factor.

In Armstrong v Redford a decision of the House of Lords in 1920, Lord Dunedin, in a Dissenting Judgment, stated that the relevant test was not the situation of the premises but whether “resort to the premises is a part of the duty owed to the employer”. That approach would suggest that this Claimant was “at work” at the material time.

For the purposes of the Regulations, when the Claimant was leaving at the end of the day’s work and used a lift located in the lobby of the building where she worked, she was using it at work within the meaning of Regulation 3(2) of the 1998 Regulations. For these purposes the line should not be drawn when the Respondent left her office to enter the lift or when the lift left the second floor. Difficult questions might arise when an employee was more remote from her place of work or had no singular, regular place of work.

Although it was argued in the Court below the Judge made no finding on whether or not the Claimant was also entitled to succeed under Regulation 4 of the Workplace Regulations, namely:-

“every employer shall ensure that every workplace modification, extension or conversion which is under his control, and where any of his employees works, complies with any requirement of these Regulations”.

Although the Court had not heard a full argument on the point the Court was unable to find that the Defendant to any extent had control of the lift within the meaning of Regulation 4. It was not theirs and the responsibility for its repair and maintenance was not theirs. They themselves could do nothing about the defect which arose and which caused the accident to their employee and the fact that they had a contractual right to have the lift repaired did not confer any degree of control upon it for the purposes of Regulation 4.

Appeal dismissed.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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