In the recent decision of Minister for Education v Shire of
Northam  WADC 42, District Court Judge McCann considered
that the use of a particular brand of IKEA chair in an indoor
sports hall created a real risk of injury.
The Defendant, the Shire of Northam, owned and operated the
Northam Recreation Centre that included an indoor sports hall with
a polished wooden floor. In late 2011 the Defendant's
recreation manager, Mr Hassell, purchased 270 IKEA brand Martin
chairs for use within the centre.
On 12 June 2013, Ms Pisan, an employee of the Plaintiff, the
Minister for Education, was injured at an event held at the
recreation centre when a Martin chair she was sitting on
spontaneously collapsed. The incident caused her right ankle to
become trapped under the seat and as a result she suffered a
serious knee injury.
Ms Pisan was entitled to workers' compensation under the
Worker's Compensation and Injury Management Act 1981
(the Act) and received a sum of money from the
The Plaintiff then commenced proceedings against the Defendant
claiming an indemnity under Section 93(1)(b) of the Act in relation
to the injuries suffered by Ms Pisan.
Defects in the Martin chair
Expert evidence provided by a structural engineer in relation to
the Martin chair concluded that the chair was ill-designed and
ill-suited for use on hard, polished surfaces. The design was such
that the base of the chair was susceptible to flex under normal
load which, in turn, would cause the fixings in the base of the
chair to fail and the seat collapse. This defect was exacerbated on
polished, slippery surfaces.
A number of other witnesses were called who testified to the
Martin chairs collapsing on other occasions while being used in the
His Honour found that the cause for each reported chair collapse
that occurred in the sports hall was due to the defect in the
Martin chair. He accepted that the defendant had a strict
maintenance and inspection system in place in relation to the use
of the Martin chair, however that regime did not address the
overarching problem which was that these chairs were not suitable
for use on polished, slippery floors.
His Honour further found that the continued use of the Martin
chairs presented a real risk of injury and that the risk exceeded
the burden of eliminating it. He considered that a reasonable
occupier in the Defendant's circumstances would have made the
appropriate enquiries and replaced all of the Martin chairs.
His Honour decided in favour of the Plaintiff, particularly that
it was entitled to an indemnity from the Defendant in relation to
the sum of money the Plaintiff paid to Ms Pisan.
Lessons for Local Government
A local government that owns and operates certain premises
should have appropriate processes in place in relation to obtaining
furniture that will be used by persons at the premises. In
determining whether the furniture is suitable for normal use,
consideration should be given to the diversity of patrons who will
use the furniture and that the furniture will likely have constant
and daily use.
Furthermore, a process should also be in place in circumstances
where incidents are reported involving the failure of furniture
through normal use at the premises. In those circumstances, the
appropriate enquiries must be made to determine whether a real risk
of injury exists due to the design of the piece of furniture and
its continued use. If the risk does exist, the items should be
Lessons for employers
If one of your employees has been injured in circumstances where
you consider there was negligence by a party other than yourself,
make sure your employers' indemnity insurer is aware, so
proceedings can be brought on your behalf in order to secure a
contribution or indemnity in respect to your workers'
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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