John Summers & Sons Ltd v Frost [1955] AC 740

Breach of statutory duty; fencing of dangerous machinery; contributory negligence


Mr Frost was an experienced maintenance fitter employed at the defendant factory. He was grinding a piece of metal on a grinding wheel which rotated 1450 times per minute. The upper part of the grinding wheel was covered by a safety hood but part of the rotating stone was unguarded. Mr Frost’s thumb came into contact with the exposed wheel and he sustained injury. He sought damages from his employer for breach of s14(1) Factories Act 1937.


S14(1) Factories Act 1937 places an employer under a duty to ensure that dangerous machinery is appropriately fenced off for their employee’s safety. The factory asserted that the requirement for fencing under the statute was only a duty to provide fencing so far as is possible to allow for its continued use. They also contended that the injury had been a result of Mr Frost’s own negligence. Mr Frost denied he had been contributorily negligent. He contended that s14 imposed an absolute duty on his employer to ensure dangerous machinery is fenced off where there is foreseeability of injury. The duty is absolute and unqualified.


Mr Frost was successful in his claim. There was a foreseeable risk of injury if the rotating stone was not appropriately fenced off. There was an absolute duty under s14(1) Factories Act 1937 to fence off dangerous machinery and the grinding stone was not fenced off. Mr Frost was not guilty of contributory negligence and the factory was liable for his injuries.