Written by Peter CarterSeptember 27, 2016
A tradesman claiming compensation for a serious back injury left the identification of the hazardous door mat on which he had slipped to a comparison with stock on the shelves at Bunnings nearly two years after his fall.
Shane Valentine was preparing to leave the housing commission property at the end of his days’ work in March 2012.
As he was opening a screen door to reach the handle of the front entry to make his exit, his left foot went out from under as he placed it on the inside mat.
Unable to recall precisely the material on its underside and unable to gain access to the premises to find out for sure, he resorted to the local hardware warehouse to take photos of mats he believed it most resembled.
On the basis of those pictures – depicting mats with fabric or sisal backing – safety engineer Justin O’Sullivan prepared an expert report identifying a potentially high risk of injury if they were employed on a timber floor.
Valentine sued, contending his employer (Masters Painters) and Q Build should have identified the mat as a potential hazard and taken steps to protect him from it.
Both Masters Painters and Decorators Pty Ltd and Q Build denied liability claiming the “shaggy pile” mat was not a hazard of which they had been aware.
When Judith Callaghan – the 26 year tenant of the Keperra residence – was finally informed about the accident several years later as the claim slowly made its way towards trial, she revealed that the floor mat she customarily used was in fact rubber backed. And that she replaced it every two years or so.
Thus was her testimony when the lawsuit came before Judge John Robertson in the Maroochydore District Court when she also swore that no one to her knowledge, had ever slipped at the door.
Mr O’Sullivan’s coefficient of friction calculations – based as they were on the wrong type of mat – were unfortunately irrelevant and he was forced to concede in the witness box that a rubber backed device was the preferred matting to be used on a timber surface.
But ought Masters or Q Build have identified the floor covering as a hazard?
Mr Masters inspected the property when he quoted for the job and another employee had prepared a risk/safety statement from information he and Q Build supplied.
Neither source identified any mat associated risk and the “safe work method statement” made no mention.
In Judge Robertson’ view, even if Mr Masters had noticed the mat, it would not necessarily – to him – have represented any risk.
And had any inspection been carried out, the mat would have been found to be exactly the type recommended by the expert engineer.
Valentine himself had walked over the mat on at least three prior occasions previously. Had he considered it a risk he could easily have removed it.
Based on all those observations, the court ruled the risk of injury was not foreseeable and notwithstanding a serious injury had been sustained, the painter’s damages ask should be refused.