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High Court upholds decision on workplace safety onus

High Court upholds decision on workplace safety onus

4 July 2013

High Court upholds decision on workplace safety onus

The High Court has rejected an appeal from the former Department of Labour about workplace safety, which will be of particular interest for companies involved in the Christchurch rebuild.

It has upheld an earlier decision of the District Court that in some cases, where a head contractor delegates technical work to a sub-contractor, the responsibility for ensuring the work is carried out safely will rest with the sub-contractors. A head contractor cannot be expected to guarantee the technical work of a specialist sub-contractor.

Southroads Ltd was prosecuted by the then Department of Labour over an accident caused by the negligent piling work of one of its sub-contractors. The District Court Judge dismissed the charge against Southroads. The Department of Labour appealed.

Stephanie Grieve, a Duncan Cotterill litigation partner specialising in Health & Safety, defended Southroads in the case.

She said the issue would always depend on the circumstances but that the case is important in clarifying the extent of a head contractor’s liability for safety issues arising from work carried out by sub-contractors.

“This is a common sense decision which recognises that in the construction industry it is usual for head contractors to delegate aspects of work to sub-contractors. While the head contractor will still be responsible for ensuring overall safety on the site, it cannot be expected to guarantee that sub-contractors do not cause safety issues by failing to carry out their tasks correctly. What is required of a head contractor will depend on the work it has delegated and how obvious the safety risk is.”

Grieve said the High Court agreed with the original finding that, while Southroads was responsible for overall management of the project, including monitoring general health and safety on site, it was not required to oversee the technical aspects of work that it had contracted out to a specialist sub-contractor.

The High Court said there was no reason for Southroads to expect that the sub-contractor would make a fundamental error in carrying out the design and construction work it had been engaged to do. The sub-contractor’s error was not something that would have been obvious to Southroads.


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