The Industrial Court of Queensland has upheld a decision of the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) to exclude a teacher’s shoulder injury as a work injury, where that injury occurred on a rope swing on a school trip to Vanuatu.
The teacher was employed at Xavier Catholic College in Queensland. The College conducted school trips to Vanuatu for students to engage in marine studies and cultural exchanges. In November 2016, the Teacher went on a school trip to Vanuatu. The teachers and students were to go scuba-diving, which was an approved activity. On the second day there was an unapproved change to the itinerary where both teachers and students went to the Blue Lagoon. No risk assessment was conducted by the teachers before taking the students to the lagoon.
When the group arrived at the lagoon they saw a rope swing which could be used to swing out over the lagoon and jump into the water. The students were keen to have a go on the swing and for the teachers to also participate. The teacher decided to have a go on the swing to help develop positive relationships with the students. However, she accepted that she was not required to participate in the activity in order to adequately perform her obligation of supervising the students.
The teacher had a turn on the swing. However, as she hit the water she felt her shoulder give way. Upon returning to the resort where the group was staying, the teacher iced her shoulder and took some painkillers.
The Teacher sought Workers’ Compensation for her injuries. She argued that her shoulder injury arose squarely out of her employment as she was doing the work she was employed to do. Alternatively, she argued that, at the very least, her use of the rope swing was incidental to her work. The Regulator argued that her use of the rope swing was a “frolic” and was thus outside the employment relationship.
The QIRC found that participating in the rope swing did not form part of the Teacher’s duties in Vanuatu. The commission held that it would have been impossible for her to simultaneously participate in the swing and supervise her students. The QIRC also considered whether the teacher’s employer induced or encouraged the Teacher to engage in the rope swing. If there was inducement or encouragement, then the injury would properly be considered as arising in the course of employment.
The QIRC found it was not necessary for the Teacher to utilise the rope swing in order to supervise her students and because the activity was not approved, there was no inducement or encouragement from the employer, as compared with the scuba diving. The Teacher appealed her case to the Industrial Court of Queensland but her appeal was dismissed.
This case highlights the importance of taking safety precautions in the workplace. In particular, it identifies the need to ensure that all work related activities are approved and risk assessments completed. It also highlights the interesting legal distinctions between work activities, induced or encouraged non-work activities, and frolics. Understanding that legal distinction is vital for establishing liability and consequently sustaining a claim for workers’ compensation.