Australia: Employers – don't misstep safety

Last Updated: 3 October 2016
Article by Greg McCann and Isabella Ledden

In brief - Teacher's slip on step ladder leads to High Court proceedings

A primary school teacher's action against her employer for a knee injury she sustained while slipping from a step ladder in the classroom, highlights that employers may need to provide detailed instructions to employees before they perform work tasks to prevent employers' breaches of their statutory duties under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Manual Handling Regulations.

Employers may be required to give employees highly detailed instructions

In September 2007, a primary school teacher slipped and injured her knee at work, while using a two-step ladder in order to reach and remove paper-mâché displays mounted on a classroom wall pin-board. Following the High Court of Australia's recent decision to remit the matter to the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal in August 2016, the teacher's action against her employer for her injury still remains to be resolved.

Nevertheless, the High Court's allowance of the teacher's appeal in Deal v Father Pius Kodakkathanath [2016] HCA 31 demonstrates the high level of specificity for detailed methods and instructions that employers may be expected to prescribe their employees prior to performing work tasks. The case highlights that the provision of such detailed instructions may be necessary in order for employers to prevent breaches of their statutory duties under regulations 3.1.1, 3.1.2 and 3.1.3 of the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Manual Handling Regulations.

Teacher's necessary and periodic task described in detail in Court

The task in question was considered a necessary part of the teacher's role as a Grade 3 teacher, and was undertaken periodically. Her employer had provided the step ladder, which had a top step 45 cm high from the floor. In the case, the method the teacher used to perform the task was described in great detail, with the teacher even calling upon a forensic consulting engineer as an expert witness.

To perform the task, the teacher would set the step ladder at right angles to the pin-board, ascend to the top step, reach up above her head and unpin one or more paper-mâché displays at a time, and then carry them while descending backwards to the floor.

At the time of the injury, the teacher had been carrying more than one paper-mâché display at once. While descending the step ladder, rather than keeping her hands free to steady herself, the teacher held the displays with both hands reportedly to prevent them from bending. At trial, the teacher stated that because she held the displays in front of her, she was unable to see past them and therefore cautiously felt for each step with her feet as she descended. On this occasion, she consequently slipped and sustained a knee injury.

Generic instructions not sufficient to cover for employer's failure to provide further instructions

It was noted by the High Court that despite the existence of generic instructions on the step ladder itself of which the teacher was aware and complied with, the employer had failed in providing any further instructions for how to perform the task in question.

The teacher also provided evidence in order to demonstrate that she in fact had no knowledge of:

  • the Victorian Manual Handling Regulations
  • any assessment undertaken by her employer pursuant to the regulations
  • any manual handling risks associated with either the positioning or removing of such displays in a workplace safety context

These assertions went unchallenged by her employer.

Written warnings about risks crucial and workplace risk assessment manuals also require greater specificity

In particular, the Court flagged that the employer, problematically, had not given the teacher any written warnings of:

  • the risks of falling from a step ladder
  • not working alone when using the step ladder
  • the danger of using the step ladder to perform the task of removing displays from the pin-board

The employer identified "Manual Handling Risk Assessment" documents in an attempt to evidence their performance of hazard identification for hanging paper displays, prior to the teacher's injury.

However, the Court noted that these documents were deficient in not specifically including any recommendation that if the task required both hands to carry an item, then an assistant should be available to enable the person to pass the load while standing securely on the ladder. Nor was the need for a system of work involved in undertaking the task either identified or recommended by the employer.

Breach of statutory duty fit to be left to and found by jury

Ultimately, in the High Court proceedings it was found that a jury was entitled to find that the risk that amounted to the teacher's injury answered the description of the risk of a "musculoskeletal disorder associated with a manual handling task", in accordance with the Victorian Manual Handling Regulations.

It was also held that the jury was right to conclude that the employer failed to meet the obligation of acting so far as was reasonably practicable to reduce or control that risk

Workplace safety breaches may be minimised by adopting a thorough approach

The case has since been cited in four cases, including one High Court case Comcare v Martin [2016], emphasising the significance of the decision for employers to adopt thorough systems for their employees in order to minimise workplace safety breaches. This also applies to all states and territories around Australia where the Work Health and Safety Act, and other safety legislation has been enacted.

Employers - to reduce your potential exposure you should:

  • consider whether there is a "safest" way for your employees to perform the work tasks required of them
  • seek legal advice as to the relevant laws, regulations and codes of practice for your workplace
  • implement considered and thorough safety management systems

Greg McCann
Work health and safety
Colin Biggers & Paisley

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.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Greg McCann
Isabella Ledden
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions