A recent decision of the Supreme Court of Western Australia
demonstrates the care needed in determining liability in slip and
In Transfield Services (Australia) Pty Ltd v- Wieland
 WASCA 41, Wieland worked for Transfield as a senior chef in
a kitchen at the naval base at Garden Island, Western Australia. On
the day in question, he was returning to the galley after visiting
the toilet and slipped on the top step of four steps leading back
to the galley. It was subsequently found as a matter of fact that
the rubber strip on the top step was beginning to come loose.
Inspections had been carried out weekly beforehand but the
defect had gone unnoticed. The evidence of two employees confirmed
that it could not be detected by a visual inspection alone. It
could only be identified by physically lifting the strip from the
step to which it was glued or by standing at the extreme edge of
the tread at which point it began to give. It then returned to its
"normal" position once the load was removed.
Wieland and others had used the steps on hundreds of occasions
beforehand without incident and without noticing the defect. There
was no evidence to suggest that the strip or the glue were
unsuitable for their purpose or non-compliant with Australian
Standards or the relevant Building Code of Australia. It was found
that deterioration of the glue would happen gradually.
The trial judge found that deterioration of the glue caused a
foreseeable risk of injury and that a system of visual inspection
was inadequate to detect the hazard. Specifically, she found that
Transfield breached its duty of care to Wieland "by
failing to ensure that he was not exposed to risk of injury from
the steps in the corridor at his workplace." The judge
was satisfied that a system of physical inspection would have
revealed the defect.
Transfield argued that the decision was wrong for the following
It was wrong in law to require it to "ensure" that no
harm came to its employees. It only had a duty to take
reasonable care to avoid the risk of injury;
The decision did not properly consider what was a reasonable
response to the risk of harm;
The evidence did not support the conclusion that a physical
inspection would have made a difference, or what form such
inspection should take in order to be "reasonable".
The appeal succeeded on all counts. The duty is that of a
reasonably prudent employer and does not require the employer to
'safeguard a worker completely from all perils'. Not all
hazards can be avoided despite reasonable precaution. There was in
fact nothing to put Transfield on notice of the defect.
There was also nothing to suggest that its inspection process
was inadequate or fell short of any recognised industry standards
(no evidence was led on this issue). In short, it was not possible
to conclude that the type of system envisaged by the trial judge
would have revealed the defect.
The case is a useful reminder that employers need only devise
and implement reasonable systems to avoid or reduce the risk of
injury. It is not a "counsel of perfection" and
reasonableness will include reference to the circumstances of the
industry, its resources and accepted standards.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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This was an interlocutory decision about the appointment of a tutor for the child appellant, to carry on his proceedings.
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