Employer liable: worker struck by chiller room door


Employer liable: worker struck by chiller room door

An employer has been found liable to pay compensation for a lower back injury that arose from an incident with a chiller room door.

An employer has been found liable to pay compensation for a lower back injury that arose from an incident with a chiller room door.

Serious pain developed a few days later

A storeman was wheeling a pallet laden with boxes into a chiller room of his employer’s meat processing plant on Thursday 27 October 2016. As he opened a chiller door, it came off its runners. He twisted to avoid it and was hit on the shoulder when it fell on him. A co-worker helped him get up from under the door, which weighed about 110 kg. 

The storeman reported the incident to a leading hand, a supervisor and the first aid officer. He went back to work in the chiller room but with a twinge in his back. On the Friday, he was rostered off.

During the weekend, his back became more painful. The next week, he saw a general practitioner and a spinal specialist. His back pain extended first into his right leg and then his left. He was initially certified as unfit for work from 31 October to 4 November 2016 but remained incapacitated from then on.

Employer doubted cause of injury

When the storeman claimed compensation under the Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (Tas) for right back and hip and leg pain, the employer disputed the claim because co-workers and the first-aid officer had reported that the storeman had not complained of being injured immediately after the incident. The Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Tribunal decided that the employer had a reasonably arguable case to deny liability. The storeman referred his claim back to the tribunal.

The medical evidence before the tribunal included reports by specialists who had diagnosed a mechanical lower back pain with L5 and S1 nerve root compromise as a result of the incident. They also confirmed that pain symptoms could develop and increase within days of initial trauma.

Commissioner Wilkins found that the storeman had given evidence to the best of his recollection though he had to some extent reconstructed what had actually happened. However, he must have felt some pain in his lower back immediately after the accident because he had guided the first-aid officer to that area so ice gel could be applied. The commissioner also accepted the evidence of the storeman’s wife that his back pain had become worse over the next few days.

Agreement between medical witnesses

Commissioner Wilkins acknowledged the agreement by medical specialists that the storeman had suffered from a pre-existing congenital spinal condition, that the incident with the door had caused a musculoskeletal injury, and that post-injury inflammation and chemical changes causing pain could take a number of days. The specialists had also pointed to an undeniable temporal relationship between the incident and the storeman’s back pain.

The commissioner concluded that the storeman had suffered injury in the course of employment and that the injury had resulted in incapacity, which entitled him to weekly workers compensation payments.

Read the judgment

F v JBS Australia Pty Ltd [2018] TASWRCT 26 (13 November 2018)
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