Don’t forget to institute and maintain your safety system

An interesting case has just been reported from the Outer House of the Court of Session, the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland. The case concerned a school janitor who took on relief duties at a school in Inverclyde in icy weather. He proceeded to salt key routes around the school before staff and pupils arrived, but later slipped on a step which remained icy when recovering some litter during a break time.

The janitor, Stephen McKeown, sued Inverclyde Council for damages in breach of statutory duty in terms of regulations 5 and 12 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. The local authority argued that it had a gritting system in place and that the system should have been followed. It turned out that neither Mr McKeown, nor the regular janitor at the school, nor the head teacher at the school, knew the gritting system in detail nor had they ever received any instruction nor training in it.

The Court found Inverclyde Council fully liable and, in giving his judgement, Lord Burns said:

I have come to the view that the defenders’ system … was a reasonable one. But it existed only on paper and was never actually put into action.

Such a system was reasonably practicable. The defenders devised it and thus must themselves have considered it to be so. Unfortunately, having devised it, they failed to institute or maintain that system.

This is, of course, nothing new in health and safety law. Any safe system of work includes, as a matter of course, training, instruction and supervision to ensure that it exists and is maintained.

To read the full judgement of Stephen McKeown v.Inverclyde Council, follow this link.

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