High Court awards €16,000 for failure to risk assess a workstation. Failure held not to be causative but a contributory factor in the development of a chronic inflammatory condition.

Gillane.v. Focus Ireland Limited, [2015] IEHC 478

Employer failed to carry out risk assessment of workstation. Court noted that temperature at employee’s workstation was not regulated in accordance with Regulation 7 of SHWW (General Application) Regulations 2007. Court held that workstation was not the cause of chronic inflammatory condition, but was a factor which contributed to the onset of condition. Damages awarded for pain and suffering for one year post onset of condition, and claim for ongoing pain since then disallowed.

In the High Court in July 2015, Judge Murphy awarded compensation to an employee holding that her overheated workplace had contributed to the development of a chronic muscle condition.

Judge Murphy held that the employer, Focus Ireland, had failed to carry out a workstation assessment of the plaintiff’s desk, which was placed adjacent to a radiator and a window. The office was shared by a number of employees, who on occasion used to turn up the heating. The plaintiff had sinusitis and found the heat overwhelming and so opened the window beside her desk. During the winter months, this draft led to the development of neck and back stiffness. Evidence was given that she now has a chronic inflammatory condition, myositis, which when active causes pain in her neck and shoulder, and that she did not have this condition prior to sitting at this workstation.

The Plaintiff started at this workstation in Dec 2007 and in March 2008 she completed a workplace assessment form in which she reported the problems with heat, and she included details of her sinus and neck problems. Once Focus Ireland received her assessment, her workstation was reconfigured.

The Court held that it was entirely foreseeable that at her original workstation she would have been exposed to higher levels of heat, and found that the ad hoc arrangement of her workstation was negligent and in breach of statutory duty and failed to have adequate regard for the safety and well-being of the Plaintiff. Focus Ireland failed to comply with Regulation 7 of the SHHW (General Application) Regulations 2007 which requires that: “during working hours, the temperature in rooms containing workstations is appropriate for human beings, having regard to the working methods being used and the physical demands placed on the employees.”

Due to conflicting medical evidence and some inconsistencies in the Plaintiffs testimony, and the failure of her chiropractor to give evidence, and the failure by the Plaintiff to have an assessment by a psychologist (which had been recommended by medical experts for the Defence and the Plaintiff, because of the role stress could play in the condition),  the Court “ had a difficulty in concluding that as a matter of probability the workstation is the cause of the plaintiff’s ongoing inflammatory condition…..At most in the Court’s view, the defects in her workstation were merely a contributory factor in the onset of her condition but have no causative role in the perpetuation of them…. the Court is satisfied …….the fact is that for a period of three months, the Plaintiff was assigned to and sat at a work station which was defective and in the course of which she developed symptoms from which she had not previously suffered.

The Plaintiff was awarded compensation for a year of pain and suffering assessed at €15,000 and 25% of her out of pocket expenses at €1,000, giving her a total award of €16,000.