Court says work significant contributing factor to assault at mine site
Shane Cumbers was injured when he was assaulted by a co-worker whilst sleeping at the Moranbah mining camp, in the course of his employment at the Moranbah mines. Mr Cumbers brought an application for workers’ compensation for his injuries, which was repeatedly rejected at the insistence of his employer, Civeo. An appeal of his case was brought all the way to the Industrial Court and succeeded.
Work injuries sustained in assault at mining camp
Mr Cumbers gave evidence to the Court that on 15 December 2010, he was working at the Moranbah mine and residing at the Moranbah mining camp, as was encouraged to do by Civeo, his employer. Mr Cumbers finished work at 4.30pm that day and then proceeded to have social drinks with other workers at the Camp. Mr Cumbers gave evidence that marijuana was shared at the social gathering, and such activities were known to the camp operator, Civeo, and were condoned by site management.
Mr Cumbers finished socialising at around 11pm and retired to his allocated room at the camp and went to sleep. At approximately 1.50pm, Mr Cumbers was woken when he was attacked by one of the persons he was socialising with earlier at the Camp, who had obtained the master key to his room. Mr Cumbers suffered some minor injuries in the attack, but he also developed a psychiatric injury as a consequence of the assault, namely a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Rejection of workers’ compensation claim
Mr Cumbers’ workers’ compensation claim was accepted by the Regulator, but the decision was appealed by the employer, Civeo. The matter went before the Industrial Relations Commission where Civeo succeeded to have the decision of the Regulator reversed. Mr Cumbers then appealed the decision of the Industrial Relations Commission to the Industrial Court. On Appeal, there was no argument that:
- Mr Cumbers was a “worker” at the time of the incident occurring;
- He had sustained the injuries he claimed from the assault; and
- His injury arose out of his employment.
Employer argues work not a significant contributing factor to injury occurring
Civeo’s argument against acceptance of Mr Cumbers’ workers’ compensation claim was solely on the basis that his work was not a significant contributing factor to the injury occurring, as was required under the Workers’ Compensation & Rehabilitation Act 2003. The matter went before Mr Glen Martin, President of the Industrial Court.
Court finds work was a significant contributing factor to the injury occurring
President Martin found in favour of Mr Cumbers for the following reasons:
- As part of his work duties, Mr Cumbers was required to travel between five accommodation sites run by Civeo situated in the Bowen Basin region, namely, Moranbah, Dysart, Middlemount, Coppabella and Nebo Junction. As Mr Cumbers lived 300 km away, it was accordingly more appropriate for him to reside at the mining camps at these mine sites when undertaking such work. He was also encouraged to do so by his employer.
- The argument of the employer was that their only input to the assault occurring was to provide the setting in which it occurred, and this did not amount to a significant contributing factor to the injury occurring. Mr Martin disagreed with this. He determined that Mr Cumbers’ employment led to the practical requirement for him to live at the camp during his roster, and but for this, he would not have been assaulted by the other worker.
- Mr Martin held that if “the employee must be doing the very thing that the employer encouraged the employee to do, when the injury occurs,” the requisite employment connection will usually be made out.
- The evidence before the Court strongly indicated that the security system used in respect to the master key was not sufficient, contributing to the assault occurring. However, President Martin stated that this evidence was not necessary to achieve the finding that Mr Cumbers’ work was a significant contributing factor to the injury occurring. He stated that blame was not an issue for the Court to be concerned with. It was purely concerned with the issue of whether work was a significant contributing factor to the injury occurring.
- President Martin found that the policies endorsed by Civeo at the camp, concerning the conduct to be adhered to in the camp, by their very nature, created a strong link between the subject matter of the policies and the employment.
President Martin concluded that the place where an injury occurs can establish the employment connection, as can the doing of an activity, and found in favour of the worker, Mr Cumbers: “Cumbers’ injury occurred at and by reference to a place and in circumstances where the employer had induced or encouraged him to be. His injury arose out of or in the course of employment.”
Worker entitled to benefits and to pursue a Common Law claim for damages
As a result of President Martin’s findings, it was incumbent upon WorkCover to pay Mr Cumbers’ weekly wage benefits and any treatment costs incurred, as well as meet the gateway requirements to bring a Common Law claim for damages against Civeo for negligence, in order to be properly compensated for his injuries. Read the full version of the decision of the Industrial Court at: Simon Blackwood (The Workers' Compensation Regulator) v Civeo Pty Ltd.
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