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Craner v Dorset County Council, Court of Appeal, 5 December 2008

2 February 2009
The issues

Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, Regulation 4 – Workplace Regulations 1992, Regulation 12 – tripping accident – uneven paved area.

The facts

David Craner worked as a Handyman and Caretaker at Wyke Regis Primary School in Weymouth. In August 2003 he was pushing a wheeled trolley along a paved area. The trolley contacted a raised slab and came to an abrupt halt. Mr Craner’s right knee hit the trolley. As a result he suffered pain which led him to be referred to a Specialist. In January 2004 he was operated upon to remove cartilage. The accident, it was agreed by the experts, had accelerated the Claimant’s condition by three to five years. The Judge found the Defendant liable for breach of Regulation 12 (3) of the Workplace Regulations because the surface of the workplace had not been kept free of obstructions and in breach of Regulation 4 of the Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 because the trolley was unsuitable work equipment.

Neither the Council’s Health & Safety Officer, who examined the area after the accident, nor the Claimant himself, who had some health and safety responsibilities at the school, and who had made a number of full and careful reports about the conditions of various parts of the school, mentioned the raised slab.

There was no reliable evidence as to the height of the slab. Different estimates amounted to 18 to 20 millimetres to 25 millimetres. The Judge could only conclude that there had genuinely been an accident and that the protrusion, whatever it was, was sufficient to bring the wheels of the trolley to a halt. On the face of it there did not appear to be anything wrong or unsuitable about the trolley. The Claimant argued that the County Council had failed to keep the paved area of the workplace free from obstruction within Regulation 12 (3) of the Workplace Regulations and that they had provided him with an unsuitable trolley within Regulation 4 of the Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations. The County Council responded that a raised paving slab of an inch or less could not amount to a risk to health and safety and that the trolley was suitable for its intended purpose.

The decision

The trolley was not unsuitable equipment within the Regulations.

The Judge had been faced with painfully thin evidence and the Court of Appeal were not able to say that he was wrong to come to the conclusion he did despite the scantiness of the evidence. The Court noted that no point had been taken by the Defendant on the words quoted “so far as in reasonably practicable”, into Regulation 12 (3) of the Regulations. The fact that other matters at the school had a higher maintenance priority than the paving stones was understandable but it does not afford a defence to the claim.

For the future, cases of this kind should be considered under Regulation 12.1 and 12.2 because of the concept of unevenness in regulation 12.2 (2) (a) is more appropriate than the concept of obstruction in 12(3).

Appeal dismissed.

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