Latimer v AEC Limited: HL 25 Jun 1953

The Appellant had recovered damages for injuries which he alleged had been the result of a failure on the part of the Respondents in their statutory duty to maintain one of the gangways in their works in an efficient state. He slipped on a factory floor which had become flooded in an unusually heavy rain storm causing a mixture of water and oily coolant, normally confined to a channel, to coat the floor.
Held: The employer was not negligent, because it had done all that could reasonably be expected of it, short of closing the factory, to prevent injury. The risk of injury from the slippery floor was not sufficient to require the Defendants to shut the factory.
Lord Oaksey said: ‘On the question of the construction of section 25(1) of the Factories Act, 1937, I am of the opinion that by virtue of that section and the interpretation section 152, the respondents were bound to maintain the floors and passages in an efficient state, but I do not consider that it was proved that they were not in an efficient state. A floor does not, in my opinion, cease to be in an efficient state because a piece of orange peel or a small pool of some slippery material is on it. Whilst I do not agree that the maintenance of the floors is confined to their construction, I think the obligation to maintain them in an efficient state introduces into what is an absolute duty a question of degree as to what is efficient . . The question then is whether section 25(1) applies to things which are not part of the floor but whose presence on it is a source of danger. If section 25 stood alone I would say that it did not. No doubt the section is one dealing with safety, but, even so, keeping the surface of a floor free from dangerous material does not appear to me to come within the scope of maintaining the floor.’
Lord Tucker said: ‘The learned judge seems to have accepted the reasoning of counsel for the plaintiff to the effect that the floor was slippery, that slipperiness is a potential danger, that the defendants must be taken to have been aware of this, that in the circumstances nothing could have been done to remedy the slipperiness, that the defendants allowed work to proceed, that an accident due to slipperiness occurred, and that the defendants are therefore liable.
This is not the correct approach. The problem is perfectly simple. The only question was: has it been proved that the floor was so slippery that, remedial steps not being possible, a reasonably prudent employer would have closed down the factory rather than allow his employees to run the risks involved in continuing work? The learned judge does not seem to me to have posed this question to himself, nor was there sufficient evidence before him to have justified an affirmative answer.
The absence of any evidence that anyone in the factory during the afternoon or night shift, other than the plaintiff, slipped or experienced any difficulty or that any complaint was made by or on behalf of the workers all points to the conclusion that the danger was in fact not such as to impose upon a reasonable employer the obligation placed upon the respondents by the trial judge.’
Lord Oaksey, Lord Porter
[1953] 2 All ER 449, [1953] UKHL 3, [1953] AC 643
Bailii
Factories Act 1937 25(1)
England and Wales
Cited by:
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CitedGoodes v East Sussex County Council HL 16-Jun-2000
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CitedMunro v Aberdeen City Council SCS 17-Sep-2009
Safety Duty on Employer was not Absolute
The pursuer was injured slipping on ice in her defender employer’s car park. Liability depended on the interpretation of regulation 5, the claimant saying that it imposed an absolute requirement to maintain the workplace in efficient working order . .
CitedBaker v Quantum Clothing Group Ltd and Others SC 13-Apr-2011
The court was asked as to the liability of employers in the knitting industry for hearing losses suffered by employees before the 1989 Regulations came into effect. The claimant had worked in a factory between 1971 and 2001, sustaining noise induced . .
CitedMiller v Jackson CA 6-Apr-1977
The activities of a long established cricket club had been found to be a legal nuisance, because of the number of cricket balls landing in the gardens of neighbouring houses. An injunction had been granted to local householders who complained of . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 20 May 2021; Ref: scu.189994