Pape v Cumbria County Council [1992] 2 All ER 211

Employer’s liability; safe system of working; duty to warn of risks of dermatitis.


Ms Pape was employed as a part-time cleaner by the defendant council. The council had provided their employees with rubber gloves, but the employees were neither encouraged to wear them, and nor were they warned of the risks of failing to wear gloves when handling various detergents, and chemical cleaning products. Ms Pape developed extensive dermatitis and sought damages in negligence from the defendant council.


The defendant council owed their employees a non-delegable duty of care to provide a safe and proper system of working per Wilsons & Clyde Coal Co Ltd v English [1938] AC 57. Ms Pape contended that although gloves had been provided by her employer, the council had failed to instruct or actively encourage her to use them, and she had not been warned of the risks of developing a serious skin condition from coming into frequent contact with chemical cleaning agents. The defendant council submitted that the provision of rubber gloves to their employees discharged their duty of care to provide a safe system of work, and the responsibility for wearing the gloves provided fell to the individual employee.


Ms Pape’s claim was allowed and she was awarded damages. To discharge their duty of care to provide a safe system of work, it was insufficient to simply supply the rubber gloves. The duty extended to taking reasonable care to ensure the safety equipment was appropriately understood, and the risks of handling strong chemical cleaning products with unprotected hands should have been brought to the employee’s attention.