The High Court has awarded €16,000 in damages to a charity housing support worker finding that a defective workstation contributed to her medical conditions.
Due to extra resources, the room in which the employee worked was overcrowded. The employee’s workstation was directly adjacent to a radiator and a window. The other employees in the room controlled the heating and would often turn it up when they returned to the room.
The location of the employee’s workstation meant that she was consistently very warm and the air was so dry that she began to suffer from sinus infections. Whilst she had previously suffered from sinus problems, she had had no issues when on a two year secondment from her role. She also began to suffer from neck and shoulder problems and was treated by a chiropractor.
The employer circulated a workstation assessment form. It was only when the employee received the form that she first reported her issues to the employer. The employer then took immediate steps to rearrange the workstations in the room.
The High Court was of the view that it was entirely foreseeable that the person sitting at the employee’s workstation would be exposed to far greater levels of heat than those further back in the room. It held that if a risk assessment had been carried by the employer in line with its statutory duties under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, the workstations would not have been arranged in that way.
The employer had also failed to meet its obligations under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations which require employers to ensure that during working hours, the temperature in rooms containing workstations is appropriate having regard to the working methods being used and the physical demands placed on employees.
However, the Court was not satisfied that the employer’s negligence and breach of duty were the cause of the employee’s medical conditions. The Court stated that the defects in the workstation were, at most, "merely a contributory factor in the onset of her condition". The employee’s previous medical issues were considered in that context.
The High Court made an award of €16,000 in damages to compensate the employee for one year post onset of her condition.
This decision serves as a reminder to employers of the importance of meeting statutory health and safety obligations in the workplace, and of regular monitoring of compliance.