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Hitting the nail on the head

November 2011 - Employment. Legal Developments by Norrbom Vinding Law Firm, member of ius laboris.

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Health and safety at work
An employer was not responsible for an accident where an employee hit her head on a screw. For the employer had not been negligent.
Under the Danish Working Environment Act, employers must provide a safe work environment for their employees. But employers are unable to safeguard against every possible mishap, as can be seen from this case from the Danish High Court.
The case concerned an employee who cut her head while cleaning a computer room. In the room there were four low-hanging motors with protruding screws. When she pulled herself upright while cleaning the floor underneath one of the motors, she hit a screw and cut a hole in her head. She had to take sick leave and later claimed compensation.
But her employer did not admit liability. Safety was fine and none of the employees had ever indicated that there were any safety issues in the room. Moreover, the employee had cleaned the room several times before so it could not come as a surprise to her that she had to be careful when cleaning underneath the low-hanging motors.
The case started out in the district court, which ruled in favour of the employee. But the High Court overturned the district court's judgment and ruled in favour of the employer.
Not the employer’s fault
The High Court took into account that the computer room was usually cleaned once a week and that it was generally known there was a risk of knocking one’s head against the low-hanging motors when cleaning underneath them. It also weighed with the Court that the employee had cleaned the computer room several times before.
In those circumstances, the High Court held, there was nothing to blame the employer for in terms of providing a safe environment for the cleaning staff. The employer was therefore not liable for the accident.
Norrbom Vinding notes:
  • that the case illustrates that when claiming compensation from employers for an accident at work, employees must prove that the accident is attributable to factors for which the employer is to blame; and

  • that, in the test of negligence, crucial weight will be given to whether the employee was carrying out a simple task and whether the employee is experienced in carrying out that task.
The above does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such

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