Wilsons & Clyde Co Ltd v English [1938] AC 57

Law of Tort – Negligence – Duty of Care – Safe System of Work – Damages - Delegation


The defendants had employed the complainant, Mr English. He was working on a repair to an airway on the Mine Jigger Brae, which was used as part of the haulage system. He was going to the bottom of the mine pit when the haulage was started. Although he had tried to evade the danger through a manhole, he was trapped by machinery and it crushed him to death. The defendants and employers, Wilsons & Clyde Co Ltd, tried to claim that it was Mr English’s own negligence that had resulted in his death; he could have taken an alternative route or alerted the employee in charge of the machinery for it to be stopped.


It was held that the defendants had delegated the organisation of a safe working system to one of their employees on the site and they had taken all reasonable steps to ensure they entrusted this duty to an experienced employee. Thus, they were held not to be liable for damages. The complainant appealed on the issue of whether employers had a non-delegable duty of care towards the safety of workers.


The House of Lords decided that Wilsons & Clyde Co Ltd, as an employer, had a duty of care to ensure a safe system of work and this duty could not be fully delegated to another employee. Thus, the defendants always remain responsible for a safe workplace for their employees and are vicariously liable for any negligence of another. This duty includes three aspects; providing proper materials, employing competent workers and providing valuable supervision. The defendants were liable for damages.