Edwards v National Coal Board [1949] 1 All ER 743 (CA)

Manual handling – health and safety – meaning of reasonably practicable

The joint effect of sections 49 and 102(8) of the Coal Mines Act 1911 was to impose on the mine owner an absolute duty to make the roof and sides of every travelling road secure, and he could only escape civil liability for breach of this duty if he could prove that it was not ‘reasonably practicable’ to avoid or prevent the breach. ‘Reasonably practicable’ was a narrower term than ‘physically possible’, and implied that a computation must be made by the owner in which the degree of risk was placed in one scale and the sacrifice involved in the measures necessary for averting the risk (whether in money, time or trouble) was placed in the other. If there was a gross disproportion between them – the risk being insignificant in relation to the sacrifice – the onus on the owner was discharged. Thus, in a case where a colliery timberman was killed as a result of a fall which occurred from the side of a travelling road, the accident having been due to a latent defect in the side of the roadway, and where the evidence showed that the employer’s officials had never applied their minds to the question whether it was reasonably practicable to provide artificial support for this roadway or not, although more than half the existing roads were already artificially supported, the employer had failed to discharge its statutory burden.

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