It is widely known that there are duties placed on employers and companies, who own, operate or have control over work equipment.The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and the Provision and Use of work Equipment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1999 apply in the United Kingdom.  These Regulations also place responsibilities on employers whether or not they themselves provide the work equipment.  

In a recent case Catherine Rooney – v- Western Education and Library Board NIQBD 87 (15 October 2015) , Mrs Rooney claimed damages from her employer when she suffered a serious laceration to her left wrist on 11 March 2011 . She was employed as a canteen assistant working at St Anne’s Primary School, Londonderry where she had worked for over 7 years.  After washing up some large tins in the sink, she had removed her gloves to dry some items left on the drainer. One of these items was a mug, which had been previously brought in by an unidentified person some time before. The handle of the mug came off and the sharp edge of the detached handle sliced her wrist. As a result, Mrs Rooney had to attend hospital and undergo surgery shortly after the accident. 

At trial, Mrs Rooney’s barrister relied solely on the Regulations submitting that a cup constituted equipment within the meaning of Regulation 2 for use at work by Mrs Rooney. He further submitted that if this was accepted then Regulation 5 applied. Regulation 5(1) states “Every employer shall ensure that work equipment is maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair.” 

It was accepted that although the cup had not originally been provided by the employer, it had become part of the generally used stock in the canteen kitchen.  

The court considered the language of the regulations and the definition of the word “use” in Regulation 2,(1)(b) which expressly included cleaning. Regulation 3(2) was also considered which imposes duties on an employer in respect of work equipment provided for use or used by their employee at work. The court also decided whether a cup can be deemed as equipment.  The definition of work equipment in Regulation 2 (1) is very broad and in all the circumstances the court was satisfied that Mrs Rooney’s case fell within the limits of the application; and that her employer was liable for breach of statutory duty of the Provision and Use of work Equipment Regulations (NI) 1999.  Mrs Rooney was awarded £25,000 for her injuries and £1,944 for the care and assistance provided by her husband. 

Mrs Rooney’s case was in Northern Ireland, but the regulations in England & Wales use the same wording.  Whilst it may not be obvious that a cup or mug is equipment, the Regulations 2(1) define work equipment very broadly as “any machinery, appliance, apparatus, tool or installation for use at work (whether exclusively or not).” It appears that this is intended to provide comprehensive protection to employees.  Similarly, the definition of the word “use” is broad to afford wide protection for employees.  

There are of course limits to the applicability of the Regulations and this is a matter which has continued to trouble the appellate courts and is not straightforward. I would therefore always recommend that anyone who has suffered injuries whilst at work or in the course of their employment should obtain legal advice from a specialist personal injury solicitor who is able to investigate and pursue these matters thoroughly.