Accident Claims News

Schoolboy Prank Cause Injuries to Janitor

May 21, 2013

It was perhaps coincidence that the court issued it’s work accident claim judgement in the case of Gillie –v-  Scottish Borders Council [2013] CSOH 76 ( towards the end of the academic year.  The case involved sixth form pupil pranks marking their last days at school, and injuries sustained by a member of staff as she attempted to clean up one of those pranks.


It had been common for the sixth form pupils at Galasheils Academy to play pranks on their last day at school.  Over the years, many such pranks had been played, such as “ throwing of a variety of food stuffs including eggs, spaghetti sauce, yogurt and flour at the outside windows, putting washing up liquid down toilets, placing cellophane on toilet seats and smearing black shoe polish on toilet seats, throwing water balloons, using supersoakers, moving lockers against doorways so that people could not get out, putting sardines and dirty nappies in lockers, placing fish in the library and setting off the fire alarm”.  The school were aware of the issue, and were trying to discourage the practice.


On this occasion, Mrs Gillie had been asked to remove Vaseline from a banister on a stair between the ground and first floors of the school.  As she did so, she slipped and fell on Vaseline on the stairs, falling 4 or 5 steps.  It was not clear whether the Vaseline had been deliberately placed.  She raised action against her employers, alleging a breach of regulation 12(3) of the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992.  Her case failed upon the basis that it was not reasonable practicable for the Council to keep the stairs clear of the hazard on this occasion.  Lord Boyd of Duncansby summarised his view as follows -


“In conclusion, I am satisfied that the placing or dropping of Vaseline on the stairs risks serious injury. However, in my opinion, the foreseeability of such an event occurring, as opposed to any other "prank" that day, viewed from immediately before the event was very low indeed. Against that the time and resources that would have been required to eliminate that risk over and above the measures that the defenders had already taken, was disproportionate to the risk. Accordingly in all the circumstances I am satisfied that it was not reasonably practicable for the defenders to ensure that the stair was kept free of the substance which the pursuer slipped on.”


The case provides an interesting summary of the approach to be taken should a defender seek to argue that it was not reasonably practicable for them to keep a workplace clear of substances that could cause an employee to trip, slip or fall -Regulation 12(1). The Lord Ordinary indicated:-

  1. It is for the defenders to establish that it was not reasonably practicable to keep the workplace floor clear of the substance;
  2. In assessing what is reasonably practicable, there is a balancing exercise to weigh up the degree of risk as against the cost, time or effort to avoid it;
  3. As part of that assessment, it should be considered whether the risk reasonably foreseeable; and
  4. The court should assess what is reasonably practicable as at the point immediately before the accident.


It can often be thought that all a pursuer needs to do is establish that they fell due to the condition of the floor in their workplace.  This case clearly demonstrates the defence available to employers, though the onus is on them to proof it!