30 December, 2014
In February 2010 Mr Burrows accidentally fell on a patch of black ice and fractured his ankle. The accident happened in the course of his employment for Northumbrian Water whilst he was walking along a concrete access road. At the time of the accident, the Claimant's job required him to make emergency visits in order to respond to alarms at unmanned reservoirs. The Claimant had been provided with a four-wheel drive vehicle, with all terrain tyres, and spiked footwear.
The claim was dismissed at first instance and the case came before the High Court on appeal. The decision before the High Court was whether the trial Judge had been correct in dismissing a claim for breach of Regulation 12(3) of the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations on the basis that the defence of 'reasonable practicability' had been made out.
The High Court dismissed the appeal. The Defendant had taken all reasonably practicable steps to reduce the risk of injury in snowy and icy conditions by carrying out a risk assessment identifying remedial measures, providing all employees with suitable and sufficient personal protective equipment and installing a salt bin in close proximity to the access way. Whilst it was accepted that the defendant was under a duty to keep the road ice free. The reality was that the road was situated at an unmanned reservoir and the only way to ensure the access route was kept clear of ice would be to require daily visits by employees to grit the road. This requirement would increase the number of occasions employees were exposed to ice and would ultimately put more employees at risk. With regard to Regulation 5, the mere presence of ice and snow did not support a lack of maintenance, in the context of a remote, unmanned location.
This decision will be welcomed by employers who have taken all reasonable steps to protect employees who are required to work in extreme weather conditions. As winter approaches, employers are reminded of the importance of documenting detailed risk assessments to ensure that risk is reduced to the lowest possible level and of the importance of ensuring snow/ice/gritting policies are in place.