The Facts

Maintenance manager notices steam rising from plant premises when driving past after work

The plaintiff was the maintenance manager of a meat processing plant. He finished work at 3:30pm on a Friday, 12 June 2015, and met a friend at a hotel where they each had two schooners of mid-strength beer.

While driving home past his workplace at about 5pm, he noticed large plumes of steam venting from some large tanks due to a malfunctioning relief valve.

He phoned the boiler contractor, who told him that it was time-critical for him to find out which valve the leak was coming from before the steam ran out. This was so that the leak could be repaired on the weekend and the plant could open on Monday, as the tanks were essential to the processing.

Maintenance manager goes to investigate steam leaking from tanks

The manager went to investigate which pipe was leaking so that the problem could be fixed over the weekend. He could not see from outside, so he climbed up the steep metal stairs to the platform near the top of the tanks.

From where he was standing on the platform he was unable to see where the leak was, as there were three parallel pipes.

At first he leaned out through a gap in the railing, but still could not tell where the leak was because of the cloud of steam, so he stepped through the gap in the railing onto the roof of a shed. He was still on the phone to the boiler contractor at that time.

Maintenance manager falls through roof and suffers serious injury

It was winter and the light was fading, so the manager stepped onto the roof surface to get a better view. There was a section of the roof that had been replaced some years ago with a polycarbonate product called "Alsynite".

He had known about the replacement, but not the exact area where it was. He stepped onto that section and it collapsed, resulting in him falling over seven metres onto a concrete floor and sustaining serious injuries.

He fractured his skull and injured his spine, knees and wrist. He was knocked unconscious and was eventually found by a truck driver making deliveries.

Dispute between worker and employer proceeds to Supreme Court

The manager sued his employer for negligence, which the employer denied.

It was up to the Supreme Court of Queensland to determine whether or not the worker should receive compensation.

case a - The case for the injured worker

case b - The case for the employer

  • While it was not common for workers to go onto the roof of the shed, there were times when it might be required, such as for repairs, or to identify a problem, and it would be my responsibility as maintenance manager to do so.
  • Workers were never instructed not to go onto the roof.
  • My employer failed to train me in the availability of an alternative method of identifying which of the three pipes may be releasing steam.
  • My employer had safety documentation with respect to working at heights, but I was never given this documentation. There was no policy for working at heights outside or on the roofs of buildings.
  • There was a scissor lift available, but it would not have allowed me to see the leak and it could not have been accessed quickly.
  • There were no guardrails, fences, barricades or signs preventing access to the roof. No safety harnesses were provided or required for accessing the roof.
  • There was no webbing below the Alsynite or metal roofing panel above it.
  • It was foreseeable that a worker would at some point need to go onto the roof of a shed. My employer should have taken precautions which would have prevented injury.
  • We have a zero tolerance drug and alcohol policy in the workplace. Any employee who attends the workplace under the influence of alcohol or an illicit drug is not permitted to commence or continue work.
  • The manager had been drinking alcohol at the time he came onto the site, in clear contravention of the policy, and he later failed to disclose to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland that he had been to a hotel.
  • The manager's action in going up onto the roof of the shed did not form part of his duties, but was a chance event when he noticed steam when driving by the plant after hours.
  • He did not inform anyone from the company of his intention to access the roof of the shed.
  • A reasonable person could not have foreseen that a senior employee, holding a management position, would access the roof of the shed in failing light after consuming two alcoholic beverages, while talking on a mobile phone, in circumstances where he knew the roof contained Alsynite panels, but he was not able to see those panels.
  • Even if directions or training had been given to workers not to go onto the roof, it would not have stopped the maintenance manager from going onto the roof, given the circumstances of urgency which arose.

So, which case won?

Cast your judgment below to find out

Phil Griffin
Workers compensation claims
Stacks Law Firm

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