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Sharp v. Elnaugh & Sons Ltd


Colchester County Court

On the evidence, an employer was not liable for personal injuries sustained by an employee who had fallen some height from a ladder in the course of his work as an electrician; the employee was entirely at fault in climbing the ladder while no one was present to foot it or secure it in position.

The claimant (S) claimed damages against his former employers (D) for personal injuries sustained during the course of his employment. S had been employed by D as an electrician and had been sent to inspect and repair some overhead heaters in a church. As they were a considerable height above floor level and S did not have a ladder long enough to reach them, he borrowed a ladder from the church and a church steward (W) offered to foot it. S was concerned about marking the floor and placed a cushion under the base of the ladder. W's evidence was that S initially ascended and descended the ladder whilst W was footing it. S then asked W to turn off the electricity and W went outside to do so. On his return W heard a crash and found S on the floor with the ladder on the floor beside him. S had sustained injuries to his knee and face. S submitted that D was negligent and had committed various breaches of the Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1996 and Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 including a failure to provide suitable equipment, carry out a preliminary risk assessment, give adequate training and ensure that someone would assist in footing the ladder or securing it in position while it was in use.

HELD: The immediate cause of the accident was S's lack of care for his own safety. He had climbed back up the ladder while W was outside briefly, and the ladder had slipped because there was no one to foot it, causing S to fall some distance. The ladder used was a metal extendable one belonging to the church, which was perfectly suitable and safe, and the fact that D had not provided it was immaterial. There was nothing inherently unsafe about the way in which the ladder had been placed. There was also no evidence that the working conditions or premises had presented a risk to health and safety. The floor was stable, level, firm and of sufficient strength safely to support the ladder and weight of S. Although the placement of a cushion under the foot of the ladder might not have been wise, it was done to protect the floor rather than through any concern that the floor was slippery. S was an experienced electrician who recognised the relevant safety requirements, including the danger of a ladder moving whilst he was working at height and the need to have someone footing the ladder at all times. The absence of a risk assessment carried out by S would not have made any difference to the outcome. There was no strict civil liability upon an employer to carry out a risk assessment in the case of every job that an employee might undertake. It was also clear that D would have provided someone to assist S if he had requested it by telephone. Furthermore, D's health and safety information was adequate both in its general terms and specifically in respect of the use of ladders. The evidence showed that the entire fault lay with S. Consequently, D was not in breach of its common law or statutory duties.
Claim struck out.

LTL 18/1/2007

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