A 36-year-old cold store employee with extensive experience in the operation of Reach forklifts – where the driver sits sideways to improve control getting in and out of narrow storage aisles has won a WorkCover appeal for what he described as a “nothing accident”.
Peter Pope commenced work at Polar Fresh cold store in Parkinson in October 2013 through a labour-hire company.
He also was well versed in driving the battery-operated forklifts, as required, at only “a fast walking pace”, keeping all parts of his body inside the tiny cab, using both hands to control the machine and keeping his feet over the dead man pedals on the floor.
Workers’ compensation applications had been lodged for three incidents in 2014, in February then in June and November.
The third incident occurred when the machine came to an abrupt stop causing him to grab a handle to prevent a fall out of the cab. In doing so he aggravated his neck condition caused by the two earlier events.
As the forces involved in the third incident were “very modest indeed,” he initially thought the symptoms were merely a recurrence of the earlier pathology.
But as his pain – which before then was on the wane – began to escalate, he lodged a claim for a new event that WorkCover rejected.
He readily conceded it was a “nothing event” which, but for the first two accidents would certainly not resulted in an injury and necessitated any claim.
Other staff had had similar unexpected stops when one of their feet inadvertently lifted from the dead man pedal and he contended this was what had most likely occurred in his case.
In his appeal to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission Pope argued that all the surrounding conduct including investigation by the Polar Fresh state manager, supported his account and that his side on direction of travel was a contributing feature that gave rise to the injury at such a low speed.
The QIRC agreed.
Given the “substantially consistent description of how the incident occurred…. the unusual event was plausible,” ruled Industrial Commissioner Graeme Neate.
“It could quite understandably be the cause of aggravation to the pre-existing condition which was otherwise becoming symptom-free”.
He allowed the appeal put in train back payments to Pope for time off work and for medical expenses.