This blog was co-authored by Sebenzile Magagula, Candidate Attorney

The plaintiff in this judgment sustained a lower back injury on the morning of his work shift in the defendant’s automotive manufacturing plant. The injury was sustained whilst operating the rear axle assembly line, shortly after he had been moved from the Press to the SSB line. At the time, the plaintiff was in the employ of the defendant.

It is common cause that the equipment that had to be operated by the defendant’s employees carried inherent risks of harm to users, should the equipment be operated improperly due to inexperience or the lack of training.

The defendant refuted liability in relation to the plaintiff’s injury on the grounds that, while the equipment carried inherent risk of injury to inexperienced and untrained operators, all employees, including the plaintiff, who operated this equipment were fully trained and were provided with adequate supervision.

On the morning of the plaintiff’s injury, he had been instructed to move from his usual workstation (the Press) to the SSB line. On receiving such instruction, he immediately informed his team leader that he did not know how to operate the machinery on this line. After alerting his team leader to this fact, a short demonstration was made to the plaintiff on how to operate the machines and he was then advised to continue operating the machines on his own, because there was a shortage of operators and parts were needed by the defendant’s clients. This was in contrast to the evidence of a SSB line operator that an operator in this specific work area is guided for approximately two to three hours until competent to operate the equipment,  such operator is not left unsupervised, and the training could take up to two or three days.

Using the Kruger v Coetzee1966 (2) SA 428 (A) at 430E-H negligence test, the court asked whether (a) a person in the position of the defendant would have foreseen the reasonable possibility of this conduct injuring the plaintiff; and (b) whether such person would have taken reasonable steps to guard against such occurrence; and (c) did the defendant fail to take such steps.

Given the defendant’s admission that the machinery at the plant carried inherent risks of injury to users of the machines who were improperly or inadequately trained as well as the admission that Defendant had a legal duty to ensure no persons were permitted to operate the machinery without adequate training, it was established, from the evidence, that harm to persons in the position of the employee could have resulted.

The court held that the defendant had failed to take reasonable steps by failing to provide the plaintiff with adequate training and supervision. Negligence on the part of the defendant was established.

The court drew a causal link between the defendant’s failure to provide the plaintiff with the necessary training and supervision and the injuries suffered by the Plaintiff, by applying the “but for” test. In this instance. the court held that if the plaintiff had been afforded proper training, instruction and supervision, the plaintiff would have known of the inherent risks involved in the operation of the machines and would have operated them accordingly. It was established that but for the negligence on the part of the defendant, the plaintiff would not have sustained the injury.

The outcome is unsurprising on the facts.  The case is a text book example of the application of the delictual test for negligence.