Employers who fail to provide their staff with the equipment they need to safely carry out their work positively lay themselves open to compensation claims, but not all accidents are the result of health and safety breaches. A High Court ruling in the case of an electrician who fell off a ladder showed that such claims can be successfully defended with the right legal advice.
The self-employed electrician was carrying out general electrical work for a building maintenance company at a hospital when an ordinary 'A' frame ladder collapsed underneath him. Investigations showed that its rear left support leg had failed. He suffered serious head injuries and a personal injury claim against the company was brought on his behalf, seeking damages in excess of £300,000.
Negligence and various breaches of statutory duty were alleged and, in particular, it was claimed that the ladder had not been kept in efficient working order or good repair, contrary to the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. The claim was dismissed by a judge, however, on the basis that there was no evidence of any defect in the ladder and that its failure had probably arisen from the electrician either over-reaching to one side or trying to shuffle the ladder along whilst standing on it.
In dismissing the electrician's appeal against that ruling, the Court found that there was a legal and evidential burden on him to show that there was a hidden defect in the ladder. It was not a case in which such a defect could be assumed as a matter of obvious inference. The ladder, if properly used, would have been more than capable of bearing his weight and the judge's decision was both logical and well-reasoned.