Beaven v Wagner Industrial Services Pty Ltd  QDC 299 is a recent decision of the District Court of Queensland that illustrates that an employer will not be liable for the injury of a employee where adequate training failed to be provided, if it cannot be shown that an employee would have acted differently in the same circumstances with appropriate training. Furthermore, it also demonstrates how the court must be satisfied of the ‘real chance’ that training would have protected the employee from the proposed harm.
The Plaintiff had been employed by the Defendant for almost seven years as a truck driver and was trained and instructed to undertake a prestart check at the commencement of every shift. The Plaintiff was injured after falling backwards awkwardly from an attempt to unlock the passenger side of the truck by attaching a pair of vice grips to the unlocking pin. He continued to work with the injury until it was beyond his capacity, and subsequently developed secondary depression from both the pain and his inability to work.
He pursued a claim against the employer for negligence on the basis that the employer:
- Failed to provide a safe system of work;
- Failed to take reasonable steps to implement, monitor and enforce the system of work;
- Failed to not require the plaintiff to work in a manner that would cause injury to the Plaintiff;
- Failed to provide adequate assistance and supervision to ensure the Plaintiff would not be injured in the course of employment;
- Failed to provide adequate plant and equipment to ensure the Plaintiff could undertake his employment in a manner not likely to cause injury; and
- Failed not to expose the risk of injury to the Plaintiff, where a reasonably prudent employer would have done so.
Her Honour Justice Richards accepted that the injury was caused by the incident. The judge raised three questions: firstly whether the training was sufficient, secondly, whether there should be additional training in relation to the risk assessment, and lastly, whether the Plaintiff would have acted differently had any training been offered.
Her Honour accepted it was not unreasonable for the Plaintiff to act in the manner as to attempt to open the truck from the inside with the tools within the truck. The Judge accepted the opinion of a safety consultant and ergonomist that there is unlikely to be training on how to lift the pin on a door although training in lifting and reaching at a distance, would enable an employee to assess whether to proceed with the activity.
Her Honour referred to Thomas Borthwick & Sons (Australasia) Ltd v Stapleton  QCA 185; where Justice Williams held that ‘all the court can reasonably do is draw an inference from the likely response of the employee to an effectively communicated instruction and warning’. In Her Honour’s view, there was no evidence to suggest that had the Plaintiff been given further training in relation to the risk assessment, he would have changed his actions once he thought the vice grips would fix the problem.
The Judge also considered the causal link between the injury and incident, relying on the principle in Woolworths Ltd v Perkins  QCA 207 at , where it was necessary to show the measures which the employer failed to adopt would protect the employee from injury, not that it ‘could’ or ‘might’.
Her Honour concluded the Plaintiff failed to prove the Defendant’s liability for his injury as he had not successfully established that had there been further training and signage, the Plaintiff would have acted differently.
This case demonstrates the continued difficulty which an employee faces against employers for personal injury claims. Despite the lack of adequate training provided by an employer, an employee still bears the onus of proof in proving to the court that the system of work creates a risk of injury and further that the employee would have acted differently on the day with training. The Court must also be satisfied that training would protect the employee not just the chance it could or might in the future.