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May 25, 2009

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Work-equipment ruling a boon for employers

Organisations cannot be sued by staff injured when using equipment that has not been provided or maintained by the employer, the House of Lords has ruled.

Upholding a Court of Appeal decision handed down last year, the Law Lords ruled against a care worker who tried to sue the local authority she worked for after she was injured when a ramp caused her to fall — even though it had not been installed by her employer. (To see Kevin Bridges’ analysis of this case for SHP last year, click here

Handing down their judgement on 20 May, the Law Lords held that employers should not be liable for equipment not supplied by them, particularly when it is not on their own premises. It means organisations cannot be successfully sued in such circumstances under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER).

Rubina Zaidi, a regulatory specialist with national law firm, Shoosmiths, which acted for Northamptonshire County Council in the case, commented: “This comes as a massive relief to just about every business and organisation you care to mention. It would have had wide-ranging implications, and meant employers making extra provision for unforeseen risk.”

A majority of the Law Lords found it useful to consider the principle of the European directive that gave rise to PUWER, the purpose of which was to protect health and safety, rather than giving people the right to seek damages through legal action, said Zaidi. She added: “The Law Lords made another crucial point, saying employers who have no control over equipment that causes an injury should not be liable, even if they have inspected the equipment as part of a risk assessment.”

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