Tempting fate; employers supply alcohol at parties at their utter peril

The District Court of Western Australia has backed a company’s insurer when it denied an indemnify to its insured under its insurance in a claim for damages by an apprentice after he was injured by being burned in an accident at a party to which the company contributed alcohol.
The apprentice was badly burned to 60% of his body when in a frolic he and other employees attempted to set light to an old piece of machinery after consuming significant amounts of alcohol supplied by the company and under its supervision.
The insurer refused to cover the consequences on the basis of “reckless disregard” by its insured’s to its occupational health and safety obligations because the employer provided “copious amounts of free alcohol” at the function “over a significant period of time”. The employees were then permitted to engage in a dangerous activity without adequate supervision.
Judge Stewart found that the employer had breached its duty of care to the apprentice by failing to provide a safe place of work and by failing to provide a safe system of work. However Judge Stewart assessed his degree of contributory negligence at 15 percent, on the basis that while he was not responsible for providing a safe place of work, and he did not institute the system of work adopted on the day of the accident, his actions in decanting petrol while his colleague sprayed flammable liquid nearby was not the conduct of a prudent and reasonable person.
Canny v Primepower Engineering Pty Ltd [2015] WADC 81 delivered 3 July 2015