Repair and maintaining office equipment
There should be proper systems in places and proper resources devoted to inspection, repair and maintenance, for example. So if there are 100 chairs in an office, then one of them is likely to be faulty at any one time. That chair should be identified and removed or repaired. We acted for Mr G, a man who worked as a housing officer for a local authority. In his office there were a couple of chairs that were defective, and the point had been made on more than one occasion to the managers. One day he found ‘the dodgy chair’ at his desk and went to sit on it, whereupon it the seat part collapsed under his weight and he suffered a back injury. The employer knew about the problem with the chair but had failed to do anything about it. Mr G had pre-existing degeneration in his back and this severe jolt accelerated that degeneration, severely disrupting his every day life for several years. His case settled for £8000.
Repetitive strain injury
Working in an office can mean sitting at a computer or keyboard for 8 hours at a time. Having the body in an unnatural position whilst carrying out a repetitive task for that length of time, day after day, can put a strain on the body that accumulates over time, sometimes leading to a repetitive strain injury (RSI). This is why it is important that employers carry out an ergonomic assessment of the workplace for such employees, to make sure that the desk and chair are at the right height and that the keyboard and monitor are correctly adjusted. As with most workplace duties this is not an absolute duty, so the employer will not be liable whenever the worker complains of a strain, but it does mean that the employer must make reasonable efforts to reduce the risk of preventable injury, and where they have failed to do so, or have ignored a complaint that an employee needs an adjustment to their workstation then they may well be liable for any injury that follows.
Another common issue in these RSI cases is proving that it was the workplace, rather than some other cause, that was responsible for the injury. So for instance it is common for repeated keyboard work to cause wrist injuries if the chair, desk, keyboard and monitor are not in the right positions relative to each other and relative to the dimensions of the user. But those wrist symptoms can be hard to diagnose. They may be attributable to carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, arthritis, DeQuervain’s Tenosynovitis, ganglion or some other condition, and those conditions are not just caused by repetitive keyboard work – they can be caused by constitutional or other environmental factors such as obesity, pregnancy or diabetes. It is the job of the personal injury lawyer to assess the case and to obtain expert medical evidence where possible to show that the negligence complained of was the cause of the injury.
Slips in the office
Slips on wet floors are not uncommon in the office environment. Where there are canteens, tea points and water coolers there will always be spillages, and perhaps we are less careful at work than at home to clear up after ourselves. Where one employee’s negligence causes an accident to another then the employer will usually be held liable. This is the principle of vicarious liability, evolved by the courts to recognise that one worker will not have the financial means to compensate another, and perhaps also to encourage employers to take responsibility for safety and welfare in the workplace.