Back injury answering work mobile arose ‘in the course of employment’

Ziebarth v Simon Blackwood (Workers’ Compensation Regulator)[2015] QIRC 121

The Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) has upheld an appeal of a worker for acceptance of his claim for a back injury suffered while running to answer a work call on his mobile phone.

Facts

Mr Robert Ziebarth (worker) was employed as the Fleet Service Manager at Blenners Transport Pty Ltd (employer). He was responsible for maintenance repair issues associated with the employer’s fleet of trucks. The worker was required to work for at least 55 hours per week. He was also required to make himself available to work additional hours if required and was required to be on-call from time to time. He was supplied with a work telephone for the purpose of performing his duties. Importantly, it was agreed that at all material times the worker was ‘on-call’.

The worker had been chastised on a number of occasions by his superior in the past for not answering his mobile phone. At 10:00 pm his mobile rang with a distinctive ring tone for a work related call, while he was in the shower. He got out of the shower and slipped on the wet tiles, injuring his back.

Issue

The main issue for determination was whether the injury arose out of or in the course of the worker’s employment for the purposes of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld).

Determination

In a judgment delivered on 23 June 2015, O’Connor J, Deputy President of the QIRC determined the injury was suffered in the course of employment because:

  1. It was a term of the contract of employment that the worker make himself available to be on call from time to time.
  2. He was supplied a work telephone for the purpose of carrying out his employment duties, including those employment duties required of him whilst he was on call.
  3. He was on-call at the time of the incident.
  4. He was induced or encouraged to engage in the activity that he did.

The QIRC found that the work related injury was not, as submitted by the Workers’ Compensation Regulator, the running. The activity to be considered was the answering of the work mobile phone.

Considerations

With an increased demand for flexible work arrangements, this decision may be of interest to those in human resources and management.  Critical to this decision was the fact that the worker was ‘on-call’ and that the worker felt a need to answer the call because of ‘driver safety and the public safety’. A different outcome may occur in similar circumstances where staff elect to do work remotely but are not actually ‘on-call’.