The claimant Ball lost the sight in one eye when he suffered an accident using farming machinery owned by the defendant Street. Ball had hired Street for the use of his hay mowing and bailing machinery. On the day of the accident, Street was not present but had consented to Ball using the machine. Ball adjusted a coil spring on the machine prior to use, which fractured and ricocheted into his eye.
Ball’s action for damages for personal injury against Street was based upon an alleged breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. The Regulations require an employer to ensure that work equipment is maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair. These regulations also apply to any person who is not an employer, but has control over the equipment or the people who use it or the way in which the equipment is used.
At trial the judge found that the regulations were applicable. Street had been engaged to provide his services and machinery to Ball, and had the requisite control under the regulations over the machinery because Street had been specific as to who could use the machine and where and when it could be used.
However the judge went on to find that it was not foreseeable that Ball would suffer the injury, as the ricochet of the coil spring into Ball’s eye had been an unfortunate and freak accident. Accordingly the judge found there was no breach of the obligation on the part of Street under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
Both parties appealed the decision. Ball appealed the finding that there was no breach of the regulations and Street cross-appealed on the basis that the regulations should not have applied.
The Court of Appeal found the judge at first instance had been correct in his assertion that the regulations were applicable to the situation between the parties. Street had the requisite control over the equipment.
The machinery was not in a good state of repair or an efficient state prior to the accident and Street was therefore in breach of his obligations under the regulations. It was irrelevant that the accident was an unforeseeable consequence of the breach, the regulations applied regardless.
*Full case details
4 February 2005, Court of Appeal, Civil Division Potter, Longmore and Jacob LJJ
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This decision serves to highlight the onerous responsibility of employers and those in control of work equipment or in control of those using the equipment to ensure all such equipment is maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. The obligation is absolute; the fact that an injury is caused by virtue of a freak and unforeseeable accident will not preclude the application of the regulations.
Employers should ensure regular maintenance checks are carried out on all work equipment, particularly on equipment with the capacity to cause injury or damage if used in a poor state of repair.