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Wilson v Tyneside Window Cleaning Co. [1958] 2 QB 110

Law of Tort – Negligence – Safe Place at Work – Duty of Care – Damages

Facts

The complainant was a window cleaner that worked for the defendants, Tyneside Window Cleaning Co. Mr Wilson was an experienced worker. He was sent to clean windows of premises that the defendant’s had a contract for. The defendants did not inspect the premises, but told Mr Wilson to leave any windows that were difficult to clean safely and report to them on the matter. Mr Wilson had an accident at work and sustained injuries.

Issues

The trial judge dismissed the claim for damages for the injuries the complainant suffered while at work. However, the complainant appealed this decision, arguing that the defendant, as an employer, had been negligent in his duty to provide a safe working place for employees and for exposing him to unnecessary risk.

Held

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and held that the defendants had taken reasonable care not to expose Mr Wilson to any unnecessary risk. Thus, the employers were not liable for damages. An employer does have a common law duty to ensure a safe working space for their employees, which applies to their own property and third party property. Yet, Lord Justice Pearce made the example that if an employer sends his employee to ‘mend a leak in a respectable private house, no one could hold him negligent for not visiting the house himself to see if the carpet in the hall creates a trap’ [122]. The reasonable care to be exercised in each case will be different. In this case, the complainant had extensive experience as a window cleaner to recognise apparent danger and had been instructed by the defendant not to clean hazardous windows.


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