Precautionary approach to Health and Safety

Posted: 16th May 2013

The tough obligations placed upon employers by health and safety regulations have been underlined by a case in which a police constable won compensation after cutting her thumb whilst dismantling a cannabis factory. Hampshire Police had spent £150,000 in unsuccessfully defending the constable’s claim.

Comemrcial property derelictKerry Ann Taylor, still a serving constable in the Hampshire force, was nauseous as a result of inhaling cannabis fumes when she cut her thumb on broken glass as she tried to open a window. She had been tasked with uprooting plants at a cannabis factory and dumping them in a skip outside the residential property.

She was awarded £4,837 damages against the Hampshire force after a judge found that the failure to issue her with heavy-duty gardening gloves amounted to a breach of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992.

In appealing against that decision, lawyers representing the Chief Constable of Hampshire Police argued that the only foreseeable risk to which WPC Taylor had been exposed was that of skin irritation due to contact with cannabis plants. She had been issued with latex gloves to guard against that hazard.

It was submitted that the regulations had no application to a case in which there was no likelihood of WPC Taylor coming into contact with sharp edges and that it was ‘absurd’ to expect the force to allocate a specific task to each officer involved in the operation and to carry out individual risk assessments.

However, emphasising the breadth of employers’ duties under the regulations, the Court of Appeal ruled that, however slight the risk may have been, the force had been obliged to guard against it and it could have been avoided altogether by the simple expedient of issuing WPC Taylor with a thick pair of gardening gloves.

It was foreseeable that WPC Taylor would take part in a ‘whole range’ of activities during the operation and the regulations required the force to take a precautionary approach. There was also ‘no injustice’ in the force being ordered to pay the legal costs of the case, estimated at £150,000.