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James MacDonald v. Wood Group Engineering (North Sea) Limited [2010] CSOH 165


In this action, the pursuer sought damages for injuries which he sustained in the course of his employment with the defenders while working aboard the Brent Bravo Oil Production Platform in the Scottish sector of the North Sea. At the time of the incident the pursuer (an experience deck crew rigger) working in a small team engaged in transferring material and equipment from a supply vessel onto the platform. The transfer of containers was carried out by means of a crane, which lifted individual containers from the deck of the ship to the pipe deck of the platform. The pursuer was to reach across a beam and a pipe on the deck and with his arms outstretched, to control the rotation movement of a container as it was lowered by the crane. As he doing so, the tip of the middle finger of his left hand became trapped between the southwest corner of the container and the southwest vertical member of the frame of the load immediately to the west. The pursuer had pushed the southwest corner of the container away from him because he did not wish part of the container to come to rest on the pipe.

The pursuer, along with other employees, had previously complained to the defenders about the presence of pipes on the pipe deck while this exercise was taking place. They thought that the pipe in question should have been removed from the platform, but that had not been possible. The defenders had not previously regarded the pipe as a hazard with regard to the loading and unloading of containers.

The pursuer submitted that there had been a breach of both Regulation 4(1)(b)(i) and 4(1)(b)(ii) of the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, as no sufficient risk assessment had been carried out on the significance of a pipe being left on the deck at the time of the accident. The pursuer also based his claim on the common law, arguing that his losses were caused by the defenders' failure of duty at common law to provide him with a reasonably safe place of work and system of work.
The defenders denied liability and contend that in any event the pursuer was guilty of contributory negligence to the extent that he was solely responsible for the loss which he suffered.

After having evidence and submissions at proof, the Lord Ordinary concluded that there had been a breach of both Regulations 4(1)(b)(i) and 4(1)(b)(ii) as the presence of the pipe on the deck materially contributed to the need for the pursuer to manually handle the container and also materially contributed to the risk of the injury which the pursuer sustained. The Lord Ordinary noted that if the risk had been identified by the defenders, it could easily have been obviated by moving the pipe to another part of the pipe deck. Additionally, the Lord Ordinary found the defenders had breached their common law duty to provide the pursuer with a reasonably safe place of work, though had not breached their duty in respect of the system of work.

The Lord Ordinary concluded that when the pursuer placed his fingers in the place of danger, he had failed in his duty to take reasonable care for his own safety. The Lord Ordinary could find no logical basis for finding that the responsibility of either the pursuer or the defenders for the loss suffered by the pursuer was greater than that of the other and accordingly, considered it just and equitable that the damages payable to the pursuer should be reduced by 50% contributory negligence. Having heard arguments on quantum, the Lord Ordinary granted decree to the pursuer for the sum of £5,338.22.