An worker in a knitting factory won an appeal against her employee for not sufficiently looking after her health
FactsThis was an appeal against a decision that Quantum Clothing Group (“Quantum”) was not liable for Stephanie Baker's noise-induced hearing loss. Baker had been employed in the knitting industry at factories and was exposed to noise in excess of 80dB but less than 90dB. From 1971 to 1991, the judge held that Baker had suffered noise-induced hearing loss. Baker was exposed to noise at or above 85dB for about 18 years prior to being provided with ear protectors in 1989. There was differing research into the effect of exposure to noise between 85dB to 90dB.
The judge found that, although Baker had suffered noise-induced hearing loss, Quantum was not liable for it under common law or the relevant statute as the factory's workplaces were not unsafe. Baker appealed arguing, inter alia, that if the safety of the workplace depended upon knowledge or foresight of the risk of harm to the employee, the risk of any harm had to be considered.
IssueWas Quantum liable for Baker's noise-induced hearing loss?
HeldQuantum was liable for Baker's noise-induced hearing loss. By the early seventies, any employer who keep abreast of developing knowledge would have known that prolonged exposure to noise levels of 85dB or above was unsafe. Therefore Quantum was required to do what was reasonably practicable to make the workplaces safe. As it had not done so, Quantum was liable for Baker's noise-induced hearing loss attributable to her unprotected exposure to the noise from 1978.
CommentAn employer's statutory duty to its employees to make the workplace safe is a continuing one. Therefore, if developing knowledge indicates that previous workplace practices are now unsafe, an employer is required to take steps to make the workplace safe, that is, the employer must do all that is reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk of harm to their employees.
Stephanie Baker vs Quantum Clothing Group, Meridian and Pretty Polly
 EWCA 499
Court of Appeal, Sedley, Smith and Jacob LLJ, 22 May 2009
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