No Soup For You: a discussion of the liability of cleaning contractors WorkCover Authority v Spotless Facility Services Pty Ltd [2024] VSC 237

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By Stuart Eustice, Partner, Holly White, Associate, and Gregor Campbell, Lawyer

 

The Victorian Supreme Court was recently asked to consider the liability of a cleaning and catering contractor in circumstances where a worker had slipped on soup in the dining hall of Geelong Grammar School (the school).

 

Factual Background:

The worker was employed by the school, and while traversing the dining hall, he slipped on a spilt liquid, believed to be soup, injuring his spine. He made a WorkCover claim against the school which was accepted.

The VWA commenced proceedings against Spotless Facility Services (Spotless) claiming an indemnity pursuant to section 369(1) of the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (Vic) (commonly referred to as a recovery proceeding). Spotless had been engaged by the school under two contracts to provide catering services and cleaning services.

 

Submissions 

The VWA submitted that the cleaning contract between the school and Spotless required Spotless to carry out continuous spot cleaning and Spotless was negligent by failing to clean up the soup. It submitted that while Spotless had a system of cleaning following meal services, it did not have an adequate system of inspection for the detection and cleaning of food spills during meal services.

While the VWA accepted that the school owed a non-delegable duty to the worker, it submitted Spotless’ negligence made the greater contribution to the injury because Spotless specifically dealt with the dining hall and undertook the vast majority of tasks associated with catering and cleaning. It therefore submitted Factor X should be higher than 50%.

Spotless submitted that the soup could only have been present for a short time and that its cleaning contract instead required Spotless to have the resources to respond in a reasonably short timeframe when notified by the school as to a spill, but not to monitor or maintain an inspection regime.

 

Conclusion 

The Court applied the reasoning of the High Court in Strong v Woolworths Ltd[1] and found that Spotless failed to have a system in place that responded to the foreseeable risk of spillage in the dining hall. The Court found Spotless’ reliance primarily on third party reports of spillages by supervising teachers represented a breach of duty.

The Court also held that the school had not discharged its non-delegable duty of care to the worker because it was not provided with evidence suggesting the school had turned its mind to ensuring Spotless was taking taking reasonable care to address the risk of injury from spillage during meal services

The Court assessed Factor X (effectively representing Spotless’ liability) at 60%.

[1] (2012) 246 CLR 182.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Get the latest news insights and articles straight to your inbox, simply enter your details.

    *

    *

    *

    *Required Fields

    Insurance

    VCAT accepts charges relating to dishonesty are of themselves insufficient to warrant immediate suspension pending final review: Lepustin v Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia and Medical Board of Australia [2022] VCAT 1068