Members at risk as Commission finds excursion injury non-work related
A controversial court decision means teachers must make personal ‘risk assessments’ in their own interests when deciding whether to join in with student activities writes Holding Redlich special counsel Edmund Burke.
An appeal to overturn a July 2019 Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) decision that an injury sustained by a teacher on a school excursion did not arise out of, or in the course of, the teacher’s employment has been dismissed.
Consequently, the teacher was not covered by workers’ compensation insurance.
While a further appeal on this latest decision is being made in the Court of Appeal, until that outcome is known there remains a serious question mark over whether members should be participating in excursions, camps, trips and outdoor education.
On 15 January 2020 the Industrial Court of Queensland ordered that the appeal be dismissed in the matter of Geraldine Glass v Worker’s Compensation Regulator  ICQ 001.
On ABC Radio National’s Law Report program the decision was described by Industrial law expert and University of Sydney Emeritus Professor Ronald C McCallum AO as one that “does not make sense”.
The decision could mean that many teachers quite reasonably refuse to take the risk of participating in school camps and other traditionally legitimate bonding activities outside the classroom with students.
Industrial Court President Martin J said in his decision that this case was one of characterisation and about whether or not the employee’s unique actions in this matter fell within the definition of injury in s 32 of the WCR Act.
Unfortunately, this is cold comfort for teachers who can expect ‘coal face’ WorkCover decision makers to apply the case as a precedent that bars teachers from cover if they participate in non-risk-assessed activities with students.
An application has now been made to progress the matter to the Court of Appeal in Queensland.
‘Swings and roundabouts’
The employee at the centre of the case, Ms Glass, was employed in a Queensland Catholic school as a teacher and was on an end-of-year school student excursion in November 2016 when she injured her shoulder while swinging on a rope at the Blue Lagoon in Vanuatu.
The trip had been offered by the school for over a decade as part of a marine studies and cultural exchange.
The Blue Lagoon tourist destination had a well-established rope swing from a platform into the water.
The students started swinging and encouraged Ms Glass to have a go.
When it was her turn, Ms Glass swung out and injured her shoulder as she held onto the rope.
QIRC case and decision
It was argued on behalf of Ms Glass, that at the time of the injury she was doing the work she was employed to do, or at the very least interacting with the students and participating in an activity that was incidental to that work.
The regulator argued that Ms Glass was “on a frolic” of her own when she participated in the activity.
The regulator argued the Blue Lagoon rope swing was not approved or authorised by Brisbane Catholic Education, formed no part of Ms Glass’ role and so her employment only ‘provided the background’ for her injury.
Finding against Ms Glass, the QIRC found she had been undertaking an activity that would not ordinarily fall within the parameters of her normal work functions and she wasn’t induced or encouraged to take part.
- Outdoor education
- Handball in the yard
- Unscheduled games and activities on camp
- Joining a game students are playing in the playground
- Sports day staff races
- Unspecified supervision while skiing on ski camp
Until the outcome of the appeal on this latest decision is known, members set to undertake excursions, camps, trips and outdoor education should contact our union for advice regarding their participation via email@example.com or FREECALL 1800 177 937.