Cables under desk a trip hazard
ANZ Bank was recently ordered to pay a worker $600,000 damages because she tripped on electrical cables under her desk as she got up from her chair. Despite the obvious first thought that individuals have some responsibility to keep their own work area clean and tidy, and therefore no loose cables near her feet, the court in this case found that the employer had the primary duty of care and that reasonable precautions were readily available and not burdensome. In particular the employer should have ensured cable ties were used to secure all cables out of the way so they did not pose a trip hazard.
Garden path OK despite a fall and injury
In the second case Monash University avoided a $1.3m damages claim in the Supreme Court when Justice McDonald found a garden path where a person fell and was injured was acceptable despite obvious hazards and deficiencies. In part the court found the path was sloping with variable surface and exposed to all weather conditions, but had been safely used by the injured person and others for years without incident.
Conflicting information on acceptability of trip hazards
This is somewhat confusing as sometimes we hear in judgements that the low likelihood of an incident or injury is no proof of safety, and then another case uses apparent similar logic to conclude a circumstance is safe.
First, to be fair to the work of the legal profession we need to appreciate that we only have the reports on court cases to assess their decision making process, and that numerous facts are likely summarised or omitted from the reports
Notwithstanding this situation, you and I need to know what constitutes an unacceptable trip hazard now, and not find out after someone falls over something that hundreds of other people safely traversed possibly for many years.
What are the standards for trip hazards?
Is a 3mm or 5mm lip OK or does a 15mm lip pose an unacceptable trip hazard?
The workplace safety regulations offer no guidance on what constitutes unacceptable trip hazards
Australian Standard AS 1657: 2013 – Fixed Platforms, Walkways, Stairways et al offers guidance in relation to fabricated floor components. The standard requires* fabricated floor surfaces to be evenly laid with the maximum vertical lip between; floor boards, plates or panels to be less than 5mm.
e.g. AS 1657 Sections 3.3.4 and 4.3(b)
What about public footpaths and unsealed surfaces at workplaces? What is an allowable lip irrespective of whether someone trips and falls or not? Clearly, public footpaths and unsealed yards and trails cannot satisfy the tight standard of 5mm lip as for fabricated flooring.
There is some research that suggests that lips greater than 1cm high will more likely cause a trip and fall incident, as many people may initially stumble on lower lips, but their foot releases as it rotates over the lip and the person usually recovers. When the lip is higher than 1cm the foot is more likely to be held as the person moves forward and cause them to trip and fall.
Many Australian councils (per their websites) have adopted 1cm or similar as the trigger height for lips between footpath sections for action. Some of the local councils (correctly) specify more frequent inspections and quicker action when a footpath lip exceeding 1cm is detected in close proximity to heavily used pedestrian areas such as; shopping centres, schools or hospitals
Unsealed yards and trails would need a wider variation again to allow for things like pot-holes, undulations and loose stones, and may require warning signage (e.g. loose surface) and possibly PPE standards for workplaces e.g. high ankle boots to minimise twisting an ankle and falling.
For more information on managing trip hazards in the workplace or for our separate Fact Sheet on trip hazards, call T. 03 9690 6311.