Client wins £30,000 after slipping on ice while at work

Man looking out to sea

Stephen McKeown v Inverclyde Council: Court find local authority failed to take practicable measures to protect employee  

Second significant judicial opinion in recent weeks on employers’ responsibility to protect those working outside in dangerous conditions

The Outer House, Court of Session, today (Thursday 22nd August) issued its opinion in Stephen McKeown v Inverclyde Council, finding in favour of Mr McKeown who was represented by Digby Brown Solicitors.

This is the second time in as many weeks that the Court has held that employers have a duty to protect employees working outdoors in wintry or dangerous conditions. The two opinions are particularly significant in advance of workplace health and safety related provisions of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act which come into force on October 1st. 

Stephen McKeown was working as a janitor at a Primary School in Port Glasgow in November 2010. He slipped and fell on ice at a fire escape in the playground area of the School while collecting litter and helping supervise pupils during a school break-time.

Mr McKeown suffered pain in his back and leg as a result of the incident. He was unable to return to his employment as a Janitor, a job which he enjoyed and had done for many years, as the Council terminated his Contract of Employment in November 2011.

Digby Brown successfully argued that the Council had failed to take reasonably practicable measures to keep the fire escape free from ice.

In his opinion, Lord Burns criticised the Council for failing to implement a system they had in fact already devised for prioritising areas to be gritted within the school and for failing to alert Mr McKeown to the availability of work equipment which would have assisted him in his task. Lord Burns stated “[Mr McKeown] was using his own system without any assistance by way of instruction or training from his employers. He can not be blamed for proceeding as he did. …In addition, he was not told to use a scoop to apply salt to this area and, had been so instructed, I was satisfied that he would have done so and it would have made effective coverage of the area more likely”

Mr McKeown will receive £30,000 in compensation for his injuries and loss of earnings, as well as the expenses he was forced to incur as a result of the incident.

Speaking after today’s decision, Mr McKeown’s solicitor, Dawn McCafferty from Digby Brown Solicitors said:

“This is a welcome and important opinion, which provides justice for our client and affords further clarity on the responsibilities that employers have towards staff working outside in potentially dangerous conditions. 

“This was a case which highlighted the very real consequences of suffering an accident at work. Mr McKeown suffered physical injury and loss of earnings because he was injured while undertaking an important job, maintaining a primary school and helping to create a safe environment for children.  He, like many others, worked hard in often difficult circumstances and was entitled to expect his employer to take all reasonable practicable measures to protect his safety.

“This is timely and important decision ahead of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act coming into force. Digby Brown is committed to helping our clients obtain justice and legal redress and to improving health and safety standards for employees in similar circumstances across Scotland.”

Earlier this month (7th August), the Court of Session, issuing its opinion in Tracey Kennedy v Cordia (Services) LLP, held that an employer was obliged to assesses and identify reasonable risks to health and take reasonable measures to protect employees working outside in wintry or potentially dangerous conditions. Both cases were brought by Digby Brown Solicitors.

Further information

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act will, from October 1st, remove employers' civil liability for health and safety regulatory breaches in the workplace.  Digby Brown spoke out strongly against the act, during its passage through the UK Parliament.

Further commentary on this important case is provided by Harry Donaldson, Regional Secretary of the GMB (Scotland) Trades Union. Speaking after today’s Court of Session decision, Harry Donaldson said:

“This is another important decision which serves as a reminder to all employers of their responsibility to give reasonable foresight to the dangers their workers may be exposed to in the course of their employment and to take practicable and appropriate measures to protect them.

“This decision demonstrates that when employers fail to take reasonable and common sense measures to protect employees, they can and will be held to account.”

Further coverage of this story can be found at bbc online and stv online.