The High Court judgement of Hobongwana v Benteler South Africa (Pty) Ltd of the High Court of South Africa (Eastern Cape Division) has noted the importance of providing employees with proper health and safety training and supervision when operating dangerous machinery. A failure to do just that resulted in Benteler being held liable for damages.
The employee, Lonwabo Hobongwana (who was employed through a temporary employment service), sustained a lower back injury when operating machinery at Benteler’s automotive manufacturing plant. He was reallocated to work on a new machine on that day and informed his supervisor that he did not know how to operate the new machine. The employee was given a practical demonstration which lasted less than 15 minutes, and the standard operating procedure was not provided to him. He was left to operate the machine unsupervised and suffered an injury a short while later.
The standard test for negligence in South African law is whether a person would foresee the reasonable possibility of his conduct injuring another person (thus causing him loss) and would take reasonable steps to guard against such occurrence, and yet failed to take such steps.
Benteler had a duty to ensure that employees would only operate machinery after first receiving the necessary training and proper instruction, as there were inherent risks if the machinery was operated improperly due to inexperience or lack of training. While the employee did receive induction training, this fell short of the acceptable standard in that it was of a general nature and did not equip him to properly operate the machinery on the various production lines, nor did it cover the specific risks of those machines.
The court found that:
Benteler, as the responsible client of the employment brokering service, was found to be negligent as there was an inherent risk of injury and yet it failed to take reasonable steps to prevent it. Had the employee been afforded proper training, instruction and supervision on the use of the machinery he would have been aware of the risks and his injury could have been avoided. Benteler was found liable for damages and for legal costs.
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