These days it often feels impossible to watch television without someone enquiring whether you’ve “suffered a trip or fall at work that wasn’t your fault”. As the festive period makes way to the chill of January and February, the question of how best to protect against the hazards posed by icy conditions is often on the minds of employers, estates managers and property owners. The recent case of Burrows v Northumbrian Water (2014) helps to shed some light on the steps that should be taken when there is a known risk of snow and ice.
In February 2010 Mr Burrows, a long serving employee of Northumbrian Water, accidentally fell on black ice and fractured his ankle whilst he was working at a remote unmanned water reservoir. He brought a claim against his employer alleging common law negligence, breaches of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and other breaches by Northumbrian Water.
His case was rejected by the county court and Mr Burrows appealed on a more limited range of alleged breaches. The central question for the court was what measures needed to be taken by Northumbrian Water against the risk that workers might slip on black ice when on foot at remote accessways.
Given the limited use of the accessway at the remote unmanned site the High Court found that Northumbrian Water had done all that was reasonably practicable. The court held that requiring Northumbrian Water to inspect and grit the accessway on a daily basis would have created an additional risk to the employees who would have had to attend the site to check the accessway.
A key factor in this case was that the accessway where Mr Burrows slipped was used infrequently, in complete contrast to a busy walkway in a factory or a car park. The court felt that Northumbrian Water’s resource was better targeted on areas with the highest footfall.