- On 30 June 2022 the New South Wales Supreme Court handed down a decision relating to injuries sustained by an employee while travelling home from his workplace.
- The employee claimed that the accident was caused by “work-induced fatigue”.
- The employer was liable in negligence.
The latest case on employer liability and incidents arising out of work-related fatigue
In the case of Matinca v Coalroc (No 5)  NSWSC 844 , the employee worked as an underground coal miner and was in a motor vehicle accident approximately 2 and a half hours after finishing work. The accident occurred while the employee was on his way home from work; approximately 260 kilometres from the site of employment. As a result of the accident, the employee suffered a traumatic brain injury and several fractures.
The employee claimed that the “work-induced fatigue occasioned by the nature and conditions of his employment with the company” was a significant causing factor of the accident. Additionally, he argued that his employer had failed to take precautions to manage the risk of incidents caused by workplace fatigue.
The company, in response, argued that they were not liable as even if fatigue was a contributing factor, they had implemented workplace-fatigue management procedures to minimise the risk of work-related injuries.
The Court’s decision: Can an employer be liable for accidents caused by workplace-induced fatigue?
The Court rejected the company’s argument and held that the “fatigue-induced inattention” of the employee was a “necessary cause of his loss of control and therefore the collision”. The Court also explained that it was “not satisfied” that the speed of the driver or the condition of the road were causal factors.
Citing the High Court, the NSW Supreme Court stated it is “the employer’s duty, to whomsoever it falls to discharge it, is to take reasonable care to avoid exposing his employee to an unnecessary risk of injury and the employer is bound to have regard to a risk that injury may occur because of some inattention or misjudgement by the employee in performing his allotted task.”
The Company’s Workplace Fatigue Management Procedure was described as a “crucial document” as it showed the company’s recognition of work-induced fatigue causing severe injury.
Do employers owe their employees a duty of care beyond work hours?
The Court stated that it was “satisfied” that the Employer’s duty of care extended beyond the employee’s working hours and workplace. This finding was made due to the nature of the Company’s business.
Additionally, the employer failed to ensure that the employee submitted a personal travel management plan that was to be included in the company’s workplace fatigue management procedures. The personal travel management plan was described by the Court to be a requirement for all employees who “drive-in/drive-out” at the start or end of their shift. These plans are reviewed “by the individual’s manager, setting out the ‘controls’ the individual will implement to ensure they present fit for work and not fatigued.” The Court added that if the employee was made to submit the plan for review he “probably would not have suffered the inattention due to fatigue that caused the accident.”
Compensation for the accident caused by work related fatigue
The employer was ordered to pay the employee $1,130,782.28.
ABOUT KARENA NICHOLLS:
Karena is a Partner at Coutts and is the Head of our Injury Compensation (with extensive knowledge in personal injury) and Employment Law teams. She is passionate and dedicated to helping her clients understand their rights and obligations and advising them on the best course of action to achieve their desired outcomes. It is her practical and client-orientated approach that has attributed to her authentic reputation positioning her as a highly regarded compensation and employment lawyer.
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