Linda Mary Gillie v. Scottish Borders Council, 17 May 2013 – Health and safety at work, whether reasonably practicable to prevent school prank

Outer House case in which Mrs Gillie, a janitor at Galashiels Academy, sought damages after slipping on Vaseline on the school stairs and sustaining injuries. Mrs Gillie claimed that the accident had occurred as a result of the Council’s breach of 12(3) of the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992 (which requires that floors and traffic routes in workplaces are kept free from obstructions or substances which may cause a person to slip, trip or fall).

The Council accepted that in all probability the Vaseline had got on the stairs as the result of a prank by sixth formers at the school on what had become a traditional “prank day” on the pupils’ last day at school before study leave. However, the Council argued that they were not liable to Mrs Gillie as it was not reasonably practicable for them to keep the stair free from substances put there as part of a prank.

After considering the authorities on what was reasonably practicable, Lord Boyd noted the following:

  1. it was for the Council to establish that it was not reasonably practicable to keep the stair free from the substance upon which Mrs Gillie slipped;
  2. the assessment of what is reasonably practicable involves a balancing exercise putting on one side the degree or quantum of risk against the sacrifice in terms of loss of money, time or trouble; and
  3. in the assessment of what is reasonably practicable it is relevant to consider whether or not the incidence and nature of the risk was reasonably foreseeable.

Lord Boyd found in favour of the Council. Although the placing or dropping of Vaseline on the stairs risks serious injury, the foreseeability of such an event occurring, as opposed to any other “prank”, was very low indeed. Against that, the time and resources that would have been required to eliminate that risk over and above the measures that the Council had already taken[1], was disproportionate to the risk. Accordingly, in all the circumstances, Lord Boyd was satisfied that it was not reasonably practicable for the Council to ensure that the stair was kept free of Vaseline.

The full judgement is available from Scottish Courts here.



[1] The Court heard evidence that the school had identified the problem with prank day and instituted a series of measures to address the issue (including a social education programme and arranging a school trip to take place on the traditional prank day).

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