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A Council worker’s claim that gloves issued by his employer were inadequate to protect him from injury has been upheld by the Court of Appeal.
Steven Threlfall was working for Hull City Council in May 2006 when he sustained a serious cut to his left hand while clearing debris from the garden of a council property. The injury occurred when he picked up a black plastic bag of rubbish, even though he was wearing gloves issued by his employer.
The gloves were described by the manufacturer as being of a simple design suitable for ‘minimal risks only’. They were made partly of cloth and partly of leather and were not ‘cut-resistant’.
At the initial County Court hearing, it was suggested that Mr Threlfall had contributed to his injury by not looking in the bag before picking it up. It did not help that he could not give a detailed account of how the injury – a cut to his left little finger tendon and artery – had occurred.
Mr Threlfall’s initial appeal to the High Court failed but he was given leave to appeal further on a point of law relating to the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992. These require employers to ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety while at work. As such, working conditions should be properly risk-assessed to establish what protective equipment may be required.
At appeal it was argued that the judges at the two previous hearings had not applied the Regulations correctly. It was said that the risk of cuts from sharp objects should have been recognised in advance by a proper risk assessment of the task. The Court of Appeal held that the risk assessment carried out by the Council was a general risk assessment and consequently failed to recognise that there was a risk that employees might suffer cuts to their hands as a result of contact with sharp objects that might be hidden from view. Had the assessment been properly carried out, the Council would have identified the danger and would therefore have recognised the need to consider the suitability of the protective gloves provided.
Having won his appeal, Mr Threlfall is now free to claim damages for his injury.
“It is vital that employers carry out thorough risk assessments in order to protect their employees from foreseeable injury,” says Jeremy Walker of DFA law. “Failure to do so will not only increase the risk of workplace accidents but will also leave the employer open to litigation.”