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  • This is an issue which often arises in my cases where many householders and businesses employ the local tradesman to undertake work on their premises.  In many cases, particularly where a houseowner is concerned, the tradesman may not be insured to undertake the work on the premises.  It can often be very worrying for all concerned.  In what circumstances will the person retaining the tradesman be responsible for an accident occurring on their premises?

    This was an issue which came before Ms. Justice Reynolds in the High Court in a Decision issued by her on the 29th June 2023 in the case of Brendan Blake Plaintiff -v- Thorn Motors Limited T/A Michael Tynan Motors Defendant Rec.No 2013/9386 [2023] IEHC 476.  The circumstances of this accident were quite simple and the Judge’s Decision is very short.

    Circumstances

    The Defendant owns a small garage premises. The Plaintiff was a self-employed tradesman and had been working as an independent contractor in his own business since 2006.  The Defendant engaged the Plaintiff in 2011 to carry out works at his garage premises, part of the work being to replace tiles in the work area.

    Subsequent to the commencement of the works, and approximately two weeks prior to the accident, the Plaintiff and Mr. Tynan of the Defendant were present in the workshop of the garage. Mr. Tynan advised the Plaintiff that the tiles to be used during the renovation works were stored on the roof over the entrance to the workshop. They obtained a ladder in the premises and (very importantly) at that time secured the ladder in the jack area of the workshop floor. The Plaintiff ascended the ladder to satisfy himself that there were sufficient tiles on the roof to complete the job and it was agreed that the tiling works would take place after the other renovation works were completed.

    The Accident

    The accident occurred on a Saturday. While the garage was on limited opening hours that day, Mr.  Tynan and a number of his employees were present. The Plaintiff attended alone with a view to completing the tiling works that day.  At the Court Hearing, the Plaintiff stated that he was not in a position to secure the ladder (as he had done previously) in the area of the car jack as there was a car obscuring his access and he therefore moved it to an alternative position. He proceeded to ascend and descend the ladder on a number of occasions but on the final occasion he realised that the ladder was sliding from the wall and, before he got a chance to “free his feet”, he fell to the floor. He accepted that he was “in a hurry” that day to get the works completed.  His trips up and down the ladder had taken less than ten minutes.  Finally, he conceded (very importantly) that had he properly secured the ladder, whether by way of assistance or otherwise, the accident would not have happened.

    Evidence in Court

    A lot of the evidence in Court, and submissions made by both sides, revolved around the necessity to undertake a Risk Assessment for such works and the Plaintiff’s expert`s claim that, under Section 12 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, the Defendant should have properly managed the works being undertaken.  Section 12 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 provides:

    Every employer shall manage and conduct his or her undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that in the course of the work being carried on, individuals at the place of work (not being his or her employees) are not exposed to risks to their safety, health or welfare.”

    The Plaintiff’s Counsel also submitted that the Defendant was in breach of Regulations 6 and 12 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Construction) Regulations, 2006, firstly in failing to appoint a Project Supervisor and further for failing to have in place a written Safety and Health Plan,  which would have identified the risks inherent in the work and in particular, the risk of falling from a height.

    Judge`s Decision

    Judge Reynolds stated that Mr. Blake was an experienced tradesman.  He had experience of using ladders. It was open to him either to use a heavy object to secure the ladder or to seek assistance.  The danger of using a ladder without assistance or proper footing ought to have been obvious to him and the consequences of failing to do so were, in the Judge’s view, reasonably foreseeable in all the circumstances.

    The works involved were small renovation works.  She could not accept that this was a job which required the Defendant to engage a Project Supervisor.  This was not a construction site.  It was a small renovation project and must be distinguished from other cases where a Project Supervisor would be required on a construction site.

    In the circumstances, the Judge was satisfied that the Plaintiff was wholly negligent on the occasion in question and she therefore dismissed his claim.

    Conclusion

    This is a case where, at the outset, the Judge noted that it was conceded by the Plaintiff’s Counsel that there was contributory negligence on the part of the Plaintiff in failing to have any regard for his own safety on the occasion in question.  Therefore, it is not to say that in all instances in small projects, the property owner will be held not responsible for the injuries sustained.  While it may not be necessary to employ a Project Supervisor for such small renovation works, it would be very wise for any property owner to, at minimum, insist that the contractor produces, in advance of the works, a Risk Assessment detailing the risks involved in the construction work which have been assessed by the tradesman in advance of the works commencing.  In turn, the property owner should insist on the contractor complying with his own Risk Assessment/s.

    For further information on Accident / Personal Injury Claims you should contact:

    Brian Morgan
    Morgan McManus Solicitors

    Web: www.morganmcmanus.com
    Email: bmorgan@morganmcmanus.ie
    Ph. No.: 00353 47 51011

    Have you read our Guides:

    1. The 7 immediate Steps I must take if I`m involved in a Road Traffic Accident: Morgan-McManus-7-Steps-To-Take-After-a-Car-Accident.pdf (morganmcmanus.com)
    2. The 7 immediate Steps I must take if I have been involved in a Workplace Accident: 7-Steps-to-Take-After-a-Workplace-Accident.pdf (morganmcmanus.com)
    3. Do I need a Solicitor when filing a PIAB Personal Injury Claim?: Do-I-need-a-Solicitor-when-filing-a-PIAB-Personal-Injury-Claim-FINAL.pdf (morganmcmanus.com)

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