Companies can’t afford to ignore the dangers of horseplay

on Tuesday, 01 November 2016.

If someone is injured in the workplace as a result of reckless behaviour by one of the employees is the business liable?

This question was actually tested following an incident at a Scottish scaffolding company, in which a senior member of staff threw a claw hammer which struck a colleague on the head.

Stanley Smith, the Yard and Transport Manager at Harsco Infrastructure Ltd, had been engaged in a good humoured exchange with one of the fork lift truck drivers about who should go to collect refreshments that morning.

When his colleague had shouted something after him, Mr Smith had replied “I will teach you to speak to your manager like that.” He then picked up the hammer and threw it in the driver’s direction.

However, as the tool flew through the air it had struck a third member of the workforce, Christopher Somerville, on the head. He was taken to hospital and spent several days off work with his injuries.

Mr Smith had admitted fault and was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct, while Mr Somerville had launched a compensation claim against Harsco.

His original claim was rejected and an appeal was thrown out earlier this year, after the court ruled that the incident, which had arisen following light-hearted banter, was not connected to Mr Smith’s employment and consequently the company could not be held responsible.

However, had he thrown the hammer while engaged in work duties, the outcome of the case could have been very different.

The incident is a useful reminder for all businesses to ensure that they consider possible incidents of horseplay when drafting their health and safety policies. Employers must make it clear that this behaviour will not be tolerated and look at the options for disciplinary action if the rules are ignored.

Whether you are an employee or employer, if you would like advice about health and safety policies please give our employment team a call on 01904 528 200 and speak to Jo or Gill. 

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