The 2015 case of Rooney v Western Education and Library Board shows how easily the law can impact on those responsible for school Health & Safety in the most unlikely of ways.

In Rooney, an education board was found to be in breach of its statutory duty to provide safe work equipment, under Northern Ireland’s Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER), after a canteen assistant was injured drying a broken mug!

Although Rooney is a Northern Ireland case, it may be used to persuade courts in England and Wales to come to the same judgment. England and Wales’s Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations are identical to Northern Ireland’s.

The school worker’s wrist was cut by a sharp edge when a mug handle fell off. She successfully claimed a mug was “work equipment” within the meaning of PUWER. Even though the board had not provided the mug, the court found it to be “work equipment,” since it had become part of the generally used crockery in the canteen kitchen. Under PUWER, employers must make sure, “‘work equipment is maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair.”

Although you might not immediately think of a mug or cup as “equipment,” the court simply applied the law in its finding. The mug was cleaned, as part of the kitchen equipment it had become, by an employee of the board at her place of work. Therefore, the board was in breach of its statutory duty.

The canteen assistant was awarded £25,000 in damages.

It should be noted it is not just schools in Northern Ireland that need worry about this ruling. If as expected lawyers successfully use Rooney in cases in England and Wales, then all businesses will be subject to its interpretation of PUWER. Duties under PUWER are the same for all organisations and any employer, not just schools or educational establishments, could be affected… Office managers might need to think more about the dangers of coffee cups than paper cuts!

Contact Ellis Whittam to discuss how your school might avoid such costly oversights.

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