A case in the Scottish Court of Session (Coia v Portavadie Estates Limited) examined the question of what is and what is not work equipment for the purposes of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and also what constitutes an employee’s workplace for the purposes of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.
Matthew Coia worked as a chef for Portavadie Estates Limited, which operates a hotel and lodges at Portavadie Marina, Loch Fyne. When he first started working there, Mr Coia stayed in a caravan provided by his employer. He was not obliged to live in and was free to find his own accommodation. However, the cost per week of staying in the caravan was only £15 and this was deducted from his salary. When the pipes in the caravan froze and burst, Mr Coia was allowed to stay in one of the lodges normally used as accommodation for guests, on the understanding that he would have to move out if it were needed for paying customers.
In due course, the lodge was required and Mr Coia was asked to vacate the premises and remove his personal property. In doing so, a metal pole in the wardrobe became dislodged and caused an injury to his foot. The edges of the pole were very sharp, it was not the correct size and it had not been firmly secured.
Mr Coia brought an action for damages for his injury, claiming a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Portavadie Estates denied liability on the basis that neither set of Regulations applied in the circumstances of the accident.
The Sheriff’s Court rejected Mr Coia’s claim as it did not consider that a pole within a wardrobe in accommodation normally occupied by guests was ‘work equipment’, nor was Mr Coia acting in the course of his employment when the accident happened.
Mr Coia appealed and lost. The Court of Session rejected his arguments that when the accident occurred he had been at work as he was acting on the instructions of his employer to clear his possessions from the lodge and the pole in the wardrobe was work equipment as the lodge comprised a workplace for housekeeping staff, who would come into contact with the pole in the course of their work, and for Mr Coia, who was playing a part in preparing the lodge for the arrival of guests.
In the Court’s view, the scope of work equipment in terms of the 1998 Regulations is limited to items that have some practical purpose connected with work and the fact that an item such as a wardrobe may be cleaned does not render it work equipment. Moreover, an item can cease to be work equipment when it is put to private use – for example a company car. Nor did the Court consider that the lodge was a place of work for Mr Coia. He had not been contractually obliged to take up the offer of accommodation. The Court saw no reason why the parties should not be described as ‘each wearing two hats’. Rather than being an instruction from an employer to his employee, the instruction to vacate the premises was made by the owner of a property to its temporary occupier. When Mr Coia removed his personal possessions, there was nothing to suggest that he was doing so in the course of his employment. Accordingly, at the time of the accident, the lodge was not a workplace for the purposes of the 1992 Regulations.