SUPERMARKET giant Coles has been ordered to pay a former staff member over $1 million after she fell from a safety step she says she wasn’t trained to use.
Nicole Harris had only been working in the Tuggeranong, Canberra, store for four weeks when she fell from the step after she has been straightening shelves.
The ACT Supreme Court heard as Ms Harris was stepping down from the step in December 2009 she placed her foot in the middle step, her right ankle rolled and she fell.
She suffered injuries to her right hip, right ankle, right knee and right shoulder, and claims that as a result she suffered injury and loss.
Ms Harris told the court she had no training in using the step and had just watched what a co-worker had done and copied her movements.
Lawyers representing Coles argued the safety step was used by supermarkets across Australia, and was a piece of equipment that didn’t need training to be able to use.
Coles also said there was a failure by Ms Harris to take care for her own safety and disputes any ongoing incapacity or disability she may have.
Justice Linda Ashford did not support Coles’s version of events.
“It seems to me from the evidence there was a large volume of material given to new employees at induction. Some was relevant to the job to be performed and some was probably peripheral or even irrelevant. Neither the plaintiff nor [a co-worker] had much recollection of what happened at the induction. Various items were initialled, although it seems clear the plaintiff had little comprehension of what many of the tasks involved.”
“At first blush, this seems a straightforward item in common use, yet the defendant’s spreadsheet indicates 47 per cent of accidents using the step occurred in getting down from the step. The method of classification of injuries is cursory. However, it was thought necessary to do a risk assessment, as I have previously noted. As I have also previously noted, recommendations were made, including supervision and training in the use of the step. There is nothing in the evidence which would suggest to me that there was ever any supervision of the plaintiff and her use of the step, such as telling her not to step off sideways or to always step off backwards.”
Justice Ashford continued: “This is not an exercise in hindsight. This is not a dangerous step, per se, but this was an accident the defendant, as an employer, should have and could have avoided by proper supervision and training of the plaintiff and other employees.”
She also rejected Coles’s claims Ms Harris hadn’t been as badly injured as she claimed to be.
“I did not believe the plaintiff to be other than straightforward in her evidence.
“Clearly this has been a significant injury and the plaintiff will have continuing problems with her hip, leading almost inevitably to further hip replacement surgery.”
In her judgment released last week Justice Ashford found Coles was liable for the accident.
“I am satisfied the risk of harm was reasonably foreseeable, and the risk was not insignificant.”
She awarded the woman $1,088,468.53 in compensation, with $570,229 to cover past and future economic loss, $222,200 in general damages and $236,039 for past and future medical expenses.