A recent Supreme Court of Queensland case has hit home the importance of appropriate training in the workplace for employers, employees and temporary workers. In Longbottom v L & R Collins Pty Ltd  QSC 242 judgment was still found in favour of the injured worker despite the court being critical of the injured worker and finding him partially at fault for failing to ensure his own safety. He was awarded more than $500,000 in damages for his workplace injury.
WHAT WAS THE WORKPLACE INJURY?
Mr Longbottom was injured when harvesting bananas. In this line of work, there is usually someone working as a “humper” and another person working as a “cutter”. On the day of the injury, Mr Longbottom was working as a “humper,” whose role is to catch the banana bunch after they were cut by the “cutter”. The “cutter” needs to make incisions in a banana tree to allow the bunch to slowly bend and gradually fall onto the humper’s shoulders. The “cutter” on this day was a farm-hand from another property called in to assist with the workload overflow.
Mr Longbottom did not know the cutter and had not worked with him before. He did not know what training the cutter had received. Mr Longbottom proceeded to stand underneath the tree and told the cutter to make sure to cut the tree “right”. Instead of making a small incision in the tree, the inexperienced cutter made a large one, which caused the tree to snap (instead of bend). The tree and bunch of bananas fell quickly and heavily onto Mr Longbottom. He was knocked to the ground and injured his right hip, right shoulder and developed a psychiatric injury.
IF WE TRAINED THE WORKER AND HE DID NOT FOLLOW PROPER PROCEDURE BECAUSE HE STOOD TOO CLOSE, ISNT IT THE WORKER’S FAULT?
One of the main issues for the court to determine was whether the employer or the worker was liable for the injuries Mr Longbottom sustained. The supervisor provided evidence about the procedures and training given for the harvesting of bananas. He noted that if the banana bunch could not be reached by the humper, then the humper was not permitted to stand underneath the tree. He further stated that if the bunch came down faster than normal, the humper should not move underneath the tree at all. The employer argued that Mr Longbottom had failed to take reasonable care for his own safety in not following the procedure. The employer alleged there was contributory negligence by Mr Longbottom.
Mr Longbottom argued that he had not been trained in circumstances where he could not reach the banana bunch. He claimed that he was taught to stand underneath the tree and watch the banana bunch, that way he could ensure he was ready to catch them as they fell.
WHERE DID THE CASE ABOUT THE FALLING BUNCH OF BANANAS LAND?
Chief Justice Holmes was satisfied that Mr Longbottom was paired with a cutter who, “through lack of training and skill,” made a too deep of a cut into the tree, causing it to fall, without warning, onto Mr Longbottom, who was standing underneath it. Her Honour further noted that the risk of being injured was “foreseeable and significant”.
Although there was a finding that the employer was negligent, Her Honour was also critical of Mr Longbottom. Her Honour found that Mr Longbottom had failed to keep clear while the cut was made, particularly given the size of the tree. Also, he should have been more cautious while working with the cutter as he did not know what training or skills the cutter had.
Due to this, the court reduced the damages by 10% because of Mr Longbottom’s contributory negligence and his failure to take reasonable care for his own.
SO IF WE “PEEL” THIS CASE DOWN TO ITS FLESH, WHAT DO WE LEARN?
In a nutshell, this case reveals that safety at work is the responsibility for both employers and workers. Employees need to be appropriately trained and supervised in order to reduce risks of injury to themselves or others. While the primary responsibility for keeping workers safe rests with the employer, workers also need to be mindful of their own safety. If a worker cannot be sure of their co-worker’s skills, then they should take extra care. The employer tried to get a larger reduction in damages than ultimately awarded by the court, but only succeeded in reducing the damages payout by 10%.
If you need legal advice in relation to a workplace injury, our personal injury lawyers are equipped to provide professional support. At Evolve Legal we assist individuals with tailored legal advice to fit their individual needs. Call us today on 1300 025 101 or contact our personal injury lawyers here.
Posted in: Personal Injury
October 08 2021