Woods v Durable Suites Ltd [1953] 1 WLR 857

Employer’s liability; duty to provide safe system of work; extent of duty to encourage use of safety equipment.


Mr Woods was employed as a glue spreader in the defendant’s factory. His role frequently involved his hands and arms coming into contact with a synthetic glue known to cause dermatitis, unless appropriate protective measures were taken. The employer provided barrier cream and washing facilities and a Home Office Circular regarding the risk of dermatitis and advice as to how to avoid it, were placed near Mr Woods’ place of work at the material time. He contracted dermatitis and claimed against his employer for breaching their duty to ensure the safety precautions were taken.


Durable Suites are under a duty of care to ensure a safe and proper place of work for their employees per Wilsons & Clyde Coal v English [1938] AC 57. Mr Woods asserted the duty extended to their providing appropriate supervision to ensure safety procedures were being followed. He contended the foreman should have been present and actively encouraging the use of barrier cream and washing facilities. The defendants contended they had discharged their duty by providing barrier cream and washing facilities. They instructed their employees to avail themselves of them and there was a notice to that effect prominently displayed at Mr Woods’ place of work. They further argued, in the alternative, that Mr Woods had been contributory negligent for failing to adhere to the safety procedures.


Mr Woods was unsuccessful in his claim. The defendants had discharged their duty by providing adequate and appropriate safety equipment and instructing their employees to adhere to safety procedures. It was not the role of the employer to stand behind every employee and ensure he is doing what he knows he is supposed to do.