Workplace injuries are a common occurrence across NSW, with manual labourers accounting for the highest rate of serious claims (SafeWork Australia data). In a recent case brought before the NSW District Court, one labouring company admitted guilt after a worker was badly burnt by chemical composites.
But what was the court’s final assessment of damages?
Background of the offender
The offender owned a business specialising in producing protective coatings for concrete, composites and adhesives. At the time of the incident, he had been in operation for around 30 years. His then wife held the position of business manager.
Background of the plaintiff
The plaintiff had been employed for nine and a half years with the offender. His main duty was chemical compounding which involved mixing large batches of compounds to specification in accordance with printed batch cards. He reported to the offender on a daily basis.
The events that took place
On the morning of 19 January 2016, the plaintiff was mixing an adhesive batch which included ‘Compset’ DER 731 Epoxy Diluent (DER 731). He was working by himself, and was wearing boots, gloves and tracksuit pants. Just before he was about to begin pouring DER 731 into the mixing tank, approximately 2-3 litres of the liquid came through the valve onto his leg. The plaintiff cleaned up the spillage and headed to the changing room to wash his leg. He recorded the incident and returned to work.
By mid-afternoon, the skin around his leg tightened, and once home he noticed it had become red. He left a voicemail with the offender’s then wife (the business manager) notifying her of the incident and his injury. This voicemail was relayed to the offender who suggested washing his leg once again.
A week later the plaintiff was admitted to hospital where he was treated for first and second degree burns, which warranted several skin grafts.
In court, it was revealed that while the offender had access to a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), the document stated that DER 731 was a hazardous substance and full protective gear should be worn at all times. The plaintiff had never received training on DER 731, which was considered a failing on part of the offender.
What did the court decide?
While the seriousness of the incident was high, the court noted that the offender had taken significant steps to improve health and safety, and accident reporting, following the incident. He had also expressed great remorse and admitted guilt. For these reasons, the total of damages was lowered, with the final amount calculated at $48,750.
If you’ve been injured as a result of workplace negligence, get in touch with the workers compensation lawyers at Gerard Malouf & Partners to see how we can help you submit a claim.