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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters



OSH Tracker

Casey v University of Otago (DC, 31/08/15)

OSH Tracker

Defendant:
University of Otago
Slippery surface, multiple injuries 
In a highly unusual private prosecution, the University of Otago pleaded guilty to a section 49 charge that it had failed to take action to ensure the safety of the flooring of the Commerce Building’s atrium, knowing that failure to act would be reasonably likely to cause serious harm. The university is to pay $60,000 in reparation to Katherine Casey, who was seriously injured in a fall, and has promised to fix the problem of the atrium’s slippery floor. A fine could not be considered because the university is a Crown entity (Dunedin DC, 31 August 2015). 
The case was taken up by Katherine’s sister Victoria Casey, a barrister, who uncovered a lengthy list of serious injuries caused by a slip hazard the university had been aware of for 20 years but had failed to effectively address. 
The charge was laid solely under section 49 of the HSE Act – the ‘knowledge’ provision featuring significantly higher penalties – because it did not relate to a single named victim, meaning the case was argued as a kind of class action on the basis that the hazard was likely to cause harm to a wide range of people. 
The case arose after an incident in June 2013 when Katherine Casey, from Auckland, was visiting the university. She slipped and fell on the wet atrium floor in the Commerce Building, suffering three pelvic fractures and another to her spine. 
An Official Information Act request obtained 82 reports or complaints of slip incidents on the atrium floor, dating back as far as February 1993. The litany of reported falls or near-falls included many resulting in injury, including one in July 1996 resulting in a jaw fractured in three places after someone slipped on tiles and fell down wet atrium stairs. In October 1998 there was another fall on wet stairs resulting in a fractured spine and broken finger, while in January 2001 another stair fall resulted in a torn liver. In January 2010 a child slipped on wet tiles and struck his head hard, losing consciousness. 
The university was well aware of the issue, which had become apparent soon after the building was completed in 1991 with the atrium open to the skies. Later a glazed roof was built over the atrium but this failed to prevent rain from falling and pooling on the atrium floor and stairs. Various attempts were made to make the atrium roof weathertight, to reduce the slipperiness of the atrium’s surface (grooves in the tiles) or to guide people away from the wettest areas using cones and tape, but these proved ineffective. 
The OIA material included multiple references flagging the issue. An incident in July 1996 noted the problem with wet tiles was “recurring”, that injuries were getting more serious, and that many falls went unreported. 
Two months later a professor’s hazard report said that exposure to the risk was daily and that it could, in the extreme, result in someone’s death. In May 2001 the Otago University Students Association presented a petition signed by 1049 people saying the university needed to fix the atrium roof to prevent water on the pedestrian surfaces, noting that even people wearing rubber-soled shoes were falling over. 
Even people taking precautions reported falling, one while reading the “slippery when wet” sign. In 2011 a survey of students identified the wet atrium floor as one of their top four concerns. In a 2013 incident when an ambulance was called, the hazard report noted that even the ambulance officers had difficulty safely removing the victim on a stretcher as the surface was so slippery. 
The university has announced plans to redevelop the Commerce Building in a way which would address these safety issues. 
Industry:
Education
Sub-Industry:
Education
Risk:
Fall at same level
Harm:
Injury
Penalty Amount:
$60000.00
Reparation Amount:
$60000.00
Appeared in Safeguard issue 154

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