The Queensland District Court recently considered the scope of Division 2 and 3 of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) (“WCRA”) in the context of a claim for damages made by an employee for injuries said to have been sustained in the course of her employment as a store person at Aldi.

Background

The Plaintiff, Lucy Victoria Norsgaard, commenced employment with Aldi at their Brassall location in or around May 2018. As part of her employment duties, the Plaintiff was required to undertake the unloading and stacking of stock from what was referred to as an “ambient pallet”. The Plaintiff alleged that she was required to complete this task in no more than twenty (20) minutes.

At around 7:55pm on 28 June 2019, the Plaintiff was undertaking the abovementioned employment duty. While executing the lift, the Plaintiff’s body was bent at a 30-degree angle from vertical. Moving towards the shelving, with the load carried with outstretched arms below her waist, she took two steps to the left before attempting a third step, at which point she lost control of the lift, causing the cans of tomato to fall to the floor. The incident resulted in a musculo-ligamentous injury to the Plaintiff’s lumbar spine.

Liability position of the parties at trial

The Plaintiff alleged that her employer breached its duty of care by inadequately training her in manual handling techniques, a task with a clear risk of injury. Further, she alleged that her employer imposed no limit on the weight or quantity of items she could safely lift at one time. According to the Plaintiff, Aldi Brassall’s management did not take steps to enforce safe manual handling procedures, and instead prioritized speed and task completion over safety, and as a result, she felt compelled to hasten her pace and increase the quantity of product lifted in order to improve efficiency.

The Defendant conceded that the Plaintiff was required to complete the subject task as part of her employment duties but denied the assertion that she was expected or required to complete the tasks in less than twenty (20) minutes. It denied that lifting three cardboard trays of canned tomatoes was part of the Plaintiff’s usual or accepted duties. The Defendant advanced an argument that the Plaintiff had received training in safe manual handling, which included instructions that items weighing more than ten (10) kilograms should be lifted by way of a team lift. The Defendant’s position was that the Plaintiff had elected to lift the cartons in circumstances in which there was no requirement for her to do so, she had not been trained to do so, and she had not been instructed or directed to do so.

Decision

Upon assessment of the evidence before the court, including evidence provided by colleagues of the Plaintiff at Aldi Brassall as to the system of work actually in effect at the time of the incident, Jarro DCJ opined that the Defendant had breached its duty of care, and that but for this breach, the Plaintiff would not have suffered the injury to her back.

Jarro DCJ noted that some aspects of the initial induction process the Plaintiff undertook were deficient, and that this process ought to have involved more thorough testing of the Plaintiff to ensure a proper understanding of what was being taught, in addition to more clear and explicit instructions with respect to individual maximum weight handling limits. Further, Jarro DCJ opined that the Defendant ought to have had a proper system of supervision and enforcement in place with respect to manual handling limits. Jarro DCJ was satisfied that had these and other mechanisms been in place, the injury sustained by the Plaintiff would have either been completely prevented, or the risk of injury would have been significantly minimised, satisfying s 305D (1) of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld).

Jarro DCJ therefore found in favour of the Plaintiff, awarding the sum of $157,767.71, after the deduction of the WorkCover Refund. This award included sums of $58,974.93 and $60,000.00 for past and future economic loss.

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