Teacher on school excursion comes a cropper
A recent workers compensation case illustrates the importance of good planning for employers to ensure the safety of staff and highlights how an employee may be left counting the cost of unapproved recreational activities while on a work excursion.
Ms Glass was employed by Brisbane Catholic Education as a teacher at Xavier Catholic College when she injured her shoulder while on an annual end of year excursion in Vanuatu, a trip which she had voluntarily attended on six previous occasions.
On the second day of the trip a decision was made by Ms Glass and another teacher to alter the itinerary and visit the Blue Lagoon. The group discovered a rope swing which involved a person climbing onto an elevated platform, taking hold of a knotted rope, swinging off the rope over the water, and then letting go of the rope and falling into the lagoon. Ms Glass injured her shoulder when she let go of the rope and fell into the water.
Was the Injury work-related?
Ms Glass’ claim for compensation was declined by the workers’ compensation regulator on the basis that she had voluntarily embarked on a frolic of her own and the injury was not sustained in the course of her employment.
She appealed the decision to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission maintaining that her participation in the rope swing activity arose squarely out of her employment. The regulator maintained that Ms Glass had not been directed to take part in the rope swing activity, did not seek permission to do so, and no proper risk assessment had been conducted.
The employer had stringent planning and approval protocols in place and only allowed the trip to proceed subject to certain conditions and requirements. Evidence was given that if Ms Glass had sought approval, it would almost certainly have been denied. Attendance at the Blue Lagoon and participation in the activity had not formed part of the itinerary and pre-travel approval process and her employer did not induce or encourage her to participate in the activity. She would also not have been able to properly fulfil her duty to supervise the students while taking part in the activity.
The Commission found that the rope swing was a high risk activity that Ms Glass voluntarily participated in and did not seek permission to do so; the activity was recreational in nature and did not form part of her work responsibilities or supervisory obligations. The Commission also determined that in order for an injury to be in the course of employment, the employer must have encouraged or induced the employee to undertake the activity.
Unlike the other activities on the itinerary which had an element of risk such as scuba diving, it was not an approved activity and the Commission was not satisfied that Ms Glass’ employment was a significant contributing factor to her injury.
Glass v Workers Compensation Regulator  QIRC 46 (7 March 2019)
Simon Spence is an Employment Relations Specialist at CCER