The Facts

Woman commences employment for large organisation

In 1974 a woman secured an office job in a large Australian organisation. Her duties required her to perform typing work on a coding machine.

She was provided with a metal chair that had a padded seat, a backrest and a left-sided armrest, but not a right-sided armrest. The employee's keyboard was positioned at lower than elbow height on her right-hand side, thereby causing the woman's posture to bend to the right.

The employee had been trained to perform around 10,000 keystrokes per hour. She worked at her own speed and her job was very repetitive.

The employee had an option of moving the keyboard to a higher position and her employer had told her to do this, but she ignored her employer's instructions and kept using the keyboard in a way which ultimately led to the injuries.

Employee diagnosed with tennis elbow and suffers intermittent pain

In late 1977 the woman was diagnosed with having lateral epicondylitis, also known as "tennis elbow", in both of her arms. For a time, she also suffered from medial epicondylitis, or "golfer's elbow".

The woman suffered ongoing intermittent pain in both arms, with the pain being more pronounced in her right arm.

The woman sued her employer, claiming that it had been negligent by structuring her work in a way that exposed her to the risk of injury, which in fact eventuated.

case a - The case for the employee

case b - The case for the employer

  • The workstation provided to me by my employer forced me to use my arms in a twisted and awkward posture. This and the repetitive nature of my work led to my injuries.
  • The injuries I suffered after years of working for the employer were reasonably foreseeable by my employer.
  • My employer, acting reasonably, should have provided me with proper training on how to use the work system in a relaxed and correct manner, so as to reduce the risk of injury, rather than simply making suggestions about how to use the equipment.
  • My employer, acting reasonably, should also have properly supervised and monitored my use of the work system to ensure that correct behaviours were being followed.
  • The court should find that my employer was negligent, because it did not ensure that I used the equipment in a way that would reduce the risk of injury.
  • We told the employee to adopt a relaxed posture when using the workplace system.
  • We told her to sit in the most comfortable way when using the equipment.
  • We told her to move the keyboard to a higher position, so that she would not be leaning down to the right.
  • It is not our fault that the employee used the equipment in a way that led to her injuries, since we told her not to have the keyboard below elbow height, but she ignored us and kept positioning it in this position.
  • The court should find that we were not negligent, because we told her how to use the equipment to reduce the risk of injury.

So, which case won?

Cast your judgment below to find out

Grant Avery
Workers compensation
Stacks Law Firm

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